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Rifleman Press



Book: Taking the Ridge


Messines in WW1



Taking the Ridge: Anzacs & Germans at the Battle of Messines 1917

– Dr Jeffrey McNeill


A4, hardback. Colour and black & white photographs and maps, 376pp.


NZ$79.99 incl. GST (New Zealand)

AUS$65.00 excl. GST

€42,00 excl. VAT


 Available now at good bookshops and from the publisher 


Read Table of Contents and Introduction [click here]

Read 10 Questions with Jeff McNeill [click here] 


‘Book shed new light on Battle of Messines’, Wairarapa Times Age, 20 April 2022 [external link]




‘The richly-wrought detail and broad narrative sweep surely makes this account of a largely-forgotten World War I Western Front battle a necessity on the bookshelf of students of military history’ – Alister Browne, Manawatu Standard, 13 July 2022
click here for full article]


What readers say! Read some of the (unsolicited) email comments I have received about the book.

‘Jeff - your book is beautiful! And it begins with John Mulgan, which is always a big hook’ – Richard.


‘I have just finished Taking the Ridge. Where do I start? I think you have done what many authors hope - to produce the definitive work on a subject, to the point there is really nothing left to write. The thoroughness with which you have dealt with the Battle of Messines is astonishing, and I hope you feel the last 10-15 years have actually been worthwhile, book production-wise. I particularly like the way you included the German side of the battle and you have taken extraordinary steps to research and explain this’ – Neil.

‘I've only dived into the book very briefly, but I really like the balance between the Allied account and the German point of view. I've always felt that most accounts of the battle rely too one-sidedly on the allied narrative. But I've also found it difficult to find an account from the German side’ – Graham.

‘I have “rifled” through it to pick out areas of particular interest and I will read with relish. To say I am impressed is truly a gross understatement…I must say I was relieved at the damming assessment of  Godley…I am appreciating all the detail which is emerging and getting much satisfaction from my improved understanding’Margaret.



‘It was like pictures of Hell – great billows of Blood Red flames curling up hundreds of feet high and the ground shook like a leaf.’Bombardier Malcolm Beaven, NZ Field Artillery


‘The air was filled with the shriek of the shells overhead and stabbed with the staccato reports of the field guns. I threw off my gas mask and thinking of the New Zealanders who had come so far across the world to die for their idea of duty, stood looking and listening to the wonderful spectacle.’ – Major Bob Wilson, Royal Garrison Artillery


‘A terrible explosion tore us from our half slumber. We looked at each other questioning, no one knowing what had happened. The door was flung open and an excited voice called ‘Everyone assemble, now!’ We suspected nothing good.’Grenadier Bernhard Reinke, 1st Guard Reserve Division

The 1917 Battle of Messines was the most complete British military victory of the First World War and one in which a fifth of all New Zealand’s soldiers who served overseas would have somehow participated. Taking the Ridge tells the story of these men, together with those of the Australian 3rd and 4th Divisions and 25th Division that fought alongside them. It also tells for the first time the story of the Germans directly facing these soldiers in a battle they were to recognise as one of their darkest days of the war.

More than a century on from the battle, it is appropriate for New Zealanders and Australians to rediscover this largely forgotten victory and understand the part their troops played in it.



German 08 machine gun

Battle trophy: A German 08 machine gun captured by 1st Canterbury Battalion, 7 June 1917  (Henry Armytage Sanders, Alexander Turnbull Library).


Jeff McNeill guiding a battlefield walk at Mesen. Jeff is standing in front of the New Zealand Memorial to the Missing

About the author

In 2004, while working in Brussels with the European Parliament, Jeff McNeill made a day-trip to Messines to view the battlefield where his grandfather fought 87 years earlier. The visit left him determined to understand what not only Hugh McNeill but all combatants experienced.

McNeill’s subsequent research into the 1917 Battle of Messines has made him an authority on this action in both Belgium and New Zealand. He has guided battlefield tours and given public and academic presentations as a member of the New Zealand Pilgrimage Trust. With his training as a geographer and his expertise in modern mapping technologies, he is able to integrate the social  and spatial dimensions so as to make sense of a highly complex military action.

A Senior Lecturer in the School of People, Environment and Planning at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand, McNeill holds a PhD in Politics, an MA(Hons) in Geography and a Master of Public Policy awarded with Distinction.


  Map of Messines and strongpoints on the Black Dotted Line and intended objectives of the Australian 4th Light Horse Regiment.

Strongpoints on the Black Dotted Line and intended objectives of the Australian 4th Light Horse Regiment.


 The maps in Taking the Ridge were created by laying digital scans of original 1917 trench maps and sketches over a digital terrain model using LiDAR from Informatie Vlaanderen. That data, with its resolution to a single square metre was used to generate maps showing a landscape where the difference between life and death might have been the depth of a ditch.



4th (Otago) Company, victorious. The grins tell everything.
(Henry Armytage Sanders, Alexander Turnbull Library. Detail).






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