The Bean

From February 1915 to February 1916, the Germans were in possession of a salient into the British lines. They called it Der Helm, ‘The Helmet’. To the British, this was ‘The Bean’.

This extra piece of real estate fell into German hands when the British botched their take-over of the trenches from the French in February 1915.

During the winter, the French had not occupied this area in a permanent way, as it was a disjointed mess of half dug trenches which were full of water. They simply sent patrols into them at certain times of day. The Germans treated the area in the same way. When the British returned, they failed to understand this arrangement from the brief guided tour they had with French officers before the take-over. When the 28th Division arrived in force on 2nd February, the 1st KOYLI pushed all the way into the morass, trying to occupy a non-existant ‘front line’. 48 hours later they were pleased to leave but their relief, the 2nd East Yorks, ran straight into the German patrol that had been sent to find out who was trespassing in the uncontested area. The 2nd East Yorks began a panicked retreat leaving machine guns and other stores, and the Germans took control of the whole zone (see Palingbeek 1915, pages 54-59).

Trenches in the uncontested area were not fit for permanent occupation by either side.

As the land dried out in spring, the Germans were able to consolidate this ground but it was a mixed blessing. Soldiers hated being placed in Der Helm, as it was an artillery and sniper target and the British overlooked the position from higher ground behind The Bluff, on the left side of Der Helm. It did however allow the Germans to restrict British exploitation of The Bluff, as the salient provided observation of the whole side of The Bluff mound.

What did The Bluff look like to a German soldier from this vantage point?

In the last ten years, the grounds around The Bluff have changed considerably from open field to newly planted woodland. The views afforded by the open farmland of pre- and post-WW1 are now gone, but one small open area remains, the farm Palingbeekstraat 12 with its triangular meadow. The Bean occupied almost the first half of this meadow and standing on the path near here, you can see how far this position outflanked The Bluff, and what difficulties it gave to both sides.

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