August 10, 2009


Rare maps solve regiment's

95 year-old mystery


Hamilton, ON. August 10, 2009 – A member of a British military regiment is now able to put his “old grey head at ease” after McMaster University pinpointed the site of a First World War battle that his regiment commemorates each year but has had no clue about its location.

After discovering McMaster University's Peace and War in the 20th Century web site, Pipe Major John Spoore, a 23-year veteran of the London Scottish Regiment, contacted library staff for help in locating the only landmark—a windmill—that was recorded as being near where the battle was fought.

The battle, in which the London Scottish Regiment suffered heavy casualties, was fought Hallowe’en night, 1914, near Messines, Belgium. Though commemorated with an annual regimental dinner, magnificent painting and even a bagpipe tune, the eaxact location of the battle has until now been unknown.

"I do visit Messines very often, but the exact site of the windmill has never to my knowledge been determined," wrote Spoore in an email to McMaster, who he hoped could put his "old grey head at ease" by solving the mystery.

Gord Beck, a map specialist who works with the trench map collection, did just that.

“I researched the regiment’s military history and determined the general area in which they had fought,” said Beck.

He then figured that the windmill had to be between Huns Farm and Middle Farm, near the woods at L'Enfer. Using these clues, he scoured a trench map in the collection and finally located a very small symbol indicating a windmill, ending a near century-long mystery for both Spoore and the London Scottish Regiment.

Since the addition of more than 900 First World War maps to the McMaster collection earlier this year, cases such as this have become common: Beck says he receives about three requests for assistance every week, and there are untold numbers of history enthusiasts performing their own research at home, using the digitized maps found online at

“It's a fantastic way to explore the maps and archives," said Beck. "You really begin to appreciate the richness of our collection.”


For more information, please contact:

Jane Christmas

Manager, Public & Media Relations

McMaster University

905-525-9140 ext. 27988