Navigating the Western Front Today British Library Trench Maps in Google Earth

By Hack-Wheeze


It’s almost time to plan your attack on the Western Front. Your trip will take you through pleasant places that sell strangely interesting drinks and cakes.  If you want to experience the sound of a Whizz-bang in your head – just have a few pleasant drinks and you will hear the barrage coming down at 0 dark 30 when the concierge says “M’Sir, Herr Oberst Kerr wants to speak with you.”

Many people with an interest in the Western Front and Canada’s experiences there from late 1914 to November 1918 may feel stymied by a lack of detailed maps portraying, a hundred years of publishing has produced a galaxy of WW1 accounts. With GPS coming to the consumer over the last twenty years – where did Great Uncle Bob serve on the Western Front? If he died, where was the last place he was seen alive? This yawning gap remains across the realm of the professional historians but we fill it for you using Liddell Hart’s “Indirect Approach.” If you’ve read our post called “Where is There?” about the locations of Canadians at the Battle of Neuve Chappelle in March 1915 or “The 2nd Battle of Ypres” we have introduced a method of tracing the movement of Canadian troops through the now peaceful battlefields of a hundred years ago.

We prefer a picnic lunch from the hood of a Vauxhall D Type WW1 Staff Car. But all that is if your trip is funded by a wealthy aunt.  We of the unwashed, typically subsist off Iron Rations.

Your trip starts with planning. First you need a map reference. These are commonly seen in the WW1 War Diaries from the National Archives in Ottawa. They will look like this as shown in the McMaster University Trench Maps Archive.

We recently became aware of high level maps of WW1 Battle Areas that are linked to Google Earth. These maps are from the British Library. Once you know the map reference – you can open the base map of the Ypres Battle Area and then look in the right hand upper area to open the KML file for Google Earth.

Your location of interest is for example, the St Eloi Cross Roads south of Ypres. This was discussed briefly in our article on Major Cy North who set off a major mine there on June 7, 1917.

Going back to your open Google Earth window – you see the map reference is approximately 28 O.2.A.9.0 (refer to the McMaster reference above), which kicks out in latitude and Longitude as  50°48’38.14″N,  2°53’28.51″E.

The Passchendale Church will be about 28 D.6.D.4.6 or  50°54’1.01″N, 3° 1’14.65″E

High Level Map Plan for Ypres area

If you get lost as you search for these two sites – just flag down a Sopwith Camel and once you are up at a good altitude out of Archy Range (Anti Aircraft Guns) – look for the image below. Click it and pop up the map – you will see St Eloi X Roads a bit S from Ypres and Passchendale Church in the upper right of the map.

The memorial date is fast coming up for the July 1 Somme Battle where so many of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment served. Here is the link to that battle map from the British Library. You will want to start your attack from St John’s Road which is in the middle of the left side of the map and runs roughly upper left to lower right.

The British Library Maps link is here – perhaps you can cruise the library searching for “trench maps” and find an interesting WWI map with a Canadian link. Just send it along to us at and we’ll put it on line.

Clear as mud old chap ?

Questions in 2 minutes.

Beamont Hamel attack area July 1 1916