Known to soldiers as 'Whitesheet', the village of Wytschaete was 2.6 kilometres north of Messines along the main road from Ypres to Armentieres. Capturing the Messines-Wytschaete ridge had been the primary objective of the Allied offensive launched on 1 July 1917. The detonation of 19 explosive packed underground mines helped to ensure the Allied forces were successful in capturing the ridge despite heavy losses on both sides.
It is estimated that about 10,000 German soldiers were killed by the mine blasts while more than 700 German prisoners were captured as part of the offensive. Dyson's portrayal of the captured German soldiers is both empathetic and grim.