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Category: Western Front

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Polygon Wood (& The Buttes)

Polygon Wood, near Ypres in Belgium, was captured by the Australian 5th Division on September 26, 1917 during the Battle of Menin Road. It was a much disputed piece of ground and the area had changed hands several times. Shelling had totally destroyed the "wood" and all that was left were shattered stumps.
  • Polygon Wood was named for its shape which is clearly seen on this visitor information sign. 


  • By the time the Australians got there there were no trees left and it look like a wasteland.

The "Buttes", a large earthern mound which had been the backdrop of the Ypres rifle range before the war formed the most recognizable landmark. The German defenders had commanding views over the surrounding countryside and they fortified the Buttes with machine guns and barbed wire. Polygon Wood formed part of the German "Wilhelm Line" defence system. Dugouts and tunnels were constructed within it. 
Click to enlarge Although parts of the Division had been present at Bullecourt in April 1917 the attack on Polygon Wood was the 5th Division’s first major battle since it was mutilated during the disastrous attack at Fromelles in July 1916 . 

In the attack with the Australian 4th Division on its left and five British Divisions also taking part.

  • During the attack on Polygon Wood, a pillbox located near Black Watch Corner held up the advance. It was eventually silenced. Its' occupiers surrendered. Captain F. Moore rushed forward to accept the surrender of the pillbox. According to witnesses, a German soldier who had already surrendered saw Moore approaching, picked up his weapon, killed Moore and then surrendered again. 
  • Understandably upset the Aussies were outraged at this act of treachery and killed the German concerned. They intended to kill the whole garrison if other Australian officers had not intervened.

The troops advanced in the early hours of September 26, close behind a creeping artillery barrage. The creeping barrage that the troops advanced behind on September 26, in the words of C. E. W. Bean, Australia’s Official War Historian, “the most perfect that ever protected Australian troops”.

The Australians advanced in several stages against fierce resistance. Most of the Germans had to be killed because they would not surrender. 

The Australians captured the pillboxes, They used a style that would later become common.  The pillbox would be attacked with machine gun fire supported by bombardment from grenades or rifle grenades or trench mortars.

Meanwhile as the enemy was pinned down a team of soldiers would sneak around and attack the pill box from the rear. This technique was very costly but more effective than head on attack.

Click to enlarge Private Patrick Bugden, 31 Bn AIF, led small parties in the capture of two pillboxes and later rescued a captured Australian corporal who was being led to the rear by three Germans. 

On at least five other occasions Bugden rescued wounded men under heavy fire. He was killed on September 28. 

For his bravery and devotion to duty he was awarded the Victoria Cross. 

Private Bugden was buried at Glencourse Wood, with an fancy timber cross and a low timber fence. His remains were later moved to Hooge Crater Cemetery.

The 5th Division occupied the wood on 26 September. The Division's final objective, beyond the wood, was secured by the afternoon of the 27th. 

Polygon Wood 1917


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Digger History:  an unofficial history of the Australian & New Zealand Armed Forces