TOWARDSPEACE participation


Closure meeting Brussels


Centennial 1914-2014 in Flanders Fields

Some history on the First World War and information on the places
we visited (80 participants) on Thursday 26th of June:

How it all started: World War I

World War I (WWI or WW1), also known as the First World War, was a global war centered in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918.
Although a resurgence of imperialism was an underlying cause, the immediate trigger for war was the 28 June 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary. This set off a diplomatic crisis when Austria-Hungary delivered an ultimatum to the Kingdom of Serbia, and international alliances formed over the previous decades were invoked. Within weeks, the major powers were at war and the conflict soon spread around the world.

On 28 July, the Austro-Hungarians fired the first shots in preparation for the invasion of Serbia. As Russia mobilized, Germany invaded neutral Belgium and Luxembourg before moving towards France, leading Britain to declare war on Germany. After the German march on Paris was halted, what became known as the Western Front settled into a battle of attrition, with a trench line that would change little until 1917.

Meanwhile, on the Eastern Front, the Russian army was successful against the Austro-Hungarians, but was stopped in its invasion of East Prussia by the Germans. In November 1914, the Ottoman Empire joined the war, opening fronts in the Caucasus, Mesopotamia and the Sinai. Italy and Bulgaria went to war in 1915, Romania in 1916, and the United States in 1917.
The war approached a resolution after the Russian government collapsed in March, 1917, and a subsequent revolution in November brought the Russians to terms with the Central Powers. On 4 November 1918, the Austro-Hungarian Empire agreed to an armistice. After a 1918 German offensive along the western front, the Allies drove back the Germans in a series of successful offensives and began entering the trenches.

Germany, which had its own trouble with revolutionaries, agreed to an armistice on 11 November 1918, ending the war in victory for the Allies.

By the end of the war, four major imperial powers - the German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires - ceased to exist. The successor states of the former two lost substantial territory, while the latter two were dismantled. The map of Europe was redrawn, with several independent nations restored or created. The League of Nations formed with the aim of preventing any repetition of such an appalling conflict. This aim failed, with weakened states, renewed European nationalism and the German feeling of humiliation contributing to the rise of fascism and the conditions for World War II.


Though Ieper is the Dutch and only official name, the city's French name Ypres is most commonly used in English due to its role in World War I when only French was in official use in Belgian documents. During the war, because it was hard to pronounce in English, British troops nicknamed the city "Wipers."
Ypres occupied a strategic position during World War I because it stood in the path of Germany's planned sweep across the rest of Belgium and into France from the north. It resulted in the 1st battle of Ypres on the 4th of August 1914.

On the 22st of April 1915 the 2nd battle of Ypres started with the first major gas attack. Thousands of allied soldiers were scorched by the chlorine gas especially French troops with a lot of North Africans.
It was the first time in history that a weapon of mass destruction was deployed. Ypres Salient turned out to be an experimental battlefield: a flamethrower was used for the first time in July 1915 and in July 1917 they started to use the terrible mustard gas.

The Menin gate Memorial

The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing is a war memorial in Ypres, Belgium dedicated to the British and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the Ypres Salient of World War I and whose graves are unknown. It was unveiled on 24 July 1927

Its large Hall of Memory contains names on stone panels of 54,896 Commonwealth soldiers who died in the Salient but whose bodies have never been identified or found. On completion of the memorial, it was discovered to be too small to contain all the names as originally planned. An arbitrary cut-off point of 15 August 1917 was chosen and the names of 34,984 UK missing after this date were inscribed on the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing instead. The Menin Gate Memorial does not list the names of the missing of New Zealand and Newfoundland soldiers, who are instead honored on separate memorials.

It was chosen to be a memorial as it was the closest gate of the town to the fighting, and so Allied Troops would have marched past it on their way to fight. Actually, most troops passed out of the other gates of Ypres, as the Menin Gate was too dangerous due to shellfire.

Following the Menin Gate Memorial opening in 1927, the citizens of Ypres wanted to express their gratitude towards those who had given their lives for Belgium's freedom. As such, every evening at 20:00, buglers from the local fire brigade close the road which passes under the memorial and sound the "Last Post"
Except for the occupation by the Germans in World War II when the daily ceremony was conducted at Brookwood Military Cemetery, in Surrey, England, this ceremony has been carried on uninterrupted since 2 July 1928.
On the evening that Polish forces liberated Ypres in the Second World War, the ceremony was resumed at the Menin Gate despite the fact that heavy fighting was still taking place in other parts of the town.
To this day, the remains of missing soldiers are still found in the countryside around the town of Ypres. Typically, such finds are made during building work or road-mending activities. Any human remains discovered receive a proper burial in one of the war cemeteries in the region. If the remains can be identified, the relevant name is removed from the Menin Gate.

The Memorial Museum Passchendaele

The Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 keeps the memory alive of the Battle of Passchendaele where in I 917 in one hundred days half a million casualties fell for only eight km’s gain of ground. The museum is housed in the historic chäteau grounds of Zonnebeke and focuses on the material aspects of World War I. Attention is paid to uniforms, battlefield archaeology and artillery.

The renovated museum consists of five different parts. On the first floor you will get a comprehensive overview of the First World War in the region by means of a unique collection of historic objects, lifelike dioramas, and photo and film footage.

Then you can experience how the British in 1917 went to live underground because there was nothing left above ground. In the unique Dugout Experience you will discover communication and dressing posts, headquarters and sleeping-accommodation.

The third part covers the museum extension in a completely new underground building about the Battle of Passchendaele. This part deals with the international dimension of the war by focusing on the contribution of the different nations during this battle. In addition, by means of a model, the link with the war landscape is made.

Next to the Dugout Experience, visitors can also go through the new Trench Experience in the fourth section, where a network of German and British trenches has been reconstructed. Also original shelters have been rebuilt here.

It is a special experience of how life in the trenches evolved throughout the war years. The fifth part, the Hall of Reflection, focuses on the commemoration and remembrance of the many hundreds of thousands of victims who struggled and particularly suffered here.

Finally, there is the famous work of art by the New Zealand artist Helen Pollock,
‘Falls the Shadow’ made from clay of Passchendaele and Koromandel in New Zealand.

Tyne Cot Commonwealth
War Graves Cemetery

It is the largest cemetery for Commonwealth forces in the world, for any war. The cemetery and its surrounding memorial are located outside of Passendale, near Zonnebeke in Belgium.

At the cemetery is a Stone of Remembrance. This is 1 of the 2 symbols that you can find on all Commonwealth cemeteries. In addition is the text from Kipling: “Their name liveth for evermore”. Kipling’s son was also a missing soldier during WWI.

A second symbol is the "Cross of sacrifice" or "sacrifice cross". It is an inverted sword that symbolizes the end of the fight.
11,908 graves are registered within Tyne Cot, making it a somewhat impersonal war cemetery: the sheer number of graves make it perhaps difficult to take in. Of this total 70% are unknown.

At the back of the cemetery a large silex stone wall can be seen. On the wall are the names of the soldiers that were reported missing from August 16th 1917 until the end of the war: 33.783 soldiers and officers together with the names of 1.176 missing soldiers from New Zealand. The names of the soldiers reported missing from before August 16th 1917 are written on the walls of the Menin Gate in the center of Ypres: a total of 54.896.


The IJzertoren (Yser Tower) is a memorial along the Belgian Yser river in Dixmude.
Since 1920 the ijzerbedevaart (Yser pilgrimage) is organized annually. In the first place as a memorial service for the Flemish to the fallen of the First World War, but also as a symbol of the desire for more political independence in Flanders.

On the tower there is the abbreviation AVV-VVK: Alles Voor Vlaanderen-Vlaanderen voor Kristus (All for Flanders-Flanders for Christ) as a souvenir to the tombstones of the Flemish soldiers.

The tower was inaugurated on August 24, 1930. On all four sides of the monumental foot one can read in the four languages of the fighting parties Nooit meer oorlog, Plus jamais de guerre, No more War, Nie wieder Krieg.
The original tower has been the target of an attack, leaving him completely destroyed on the night of 15 March 1946. Some years later, only meters from there, a new and much higher (84 meter) tower was built. With the remnants of the bloated tower the Pax gateway or port of peace was built in 1950.
The ruin of the old Tower (then about 50 m high) is carefully preserved as a permanent testimony.

Life in the trenches

The "Trench of Death" about 1.5 km from the center of Dixmude, preserves the trench setting where Belgian soldiers fought under the most perilous conditions. This site where, regiment after regiment, the entire Belgian army toiled, fought and struggled for life, was the heart of the resistance until the morning of the glorious offensive of 28 September 1918.

It remains one of the most evocative reminders of the war in the Westhoek. A kilometre (0.6 mile)-long network of revetments, saps and dug-outs, the trench was one of the most dangerous Belgian positions on the Western Front, situated just 50 meters (55 yards) from a German bunker.

As a result, it was subjected to almost constant fire from German snipers and machine guns.
Because the large number of victims the trenches got the name trench of death. Life was rigorous in the trenches. Belgian soldiers manned the trenches for three days straight, then got three days’ rest in a cantonment in the rear combat zone.

The site was fully restored with concrete structures. The visitor center shows you the life and suffering of the front soldiers during the First World War.

The poppy as a symbol of WW1

Poppies grow naturally in conditions of disturbed earth. In late 1914, the fields of Northern France and Flanders were ripped open as World War One raged through Europe's heart. Once the conflict was over the poppy was one of the only plants to grow on the otherwise barren battlefields.
The role of the poppies: Poppy seeds can lie on the ground for years and only begin to grow as the nearby plants and shrubs are gone, for example if the soil was ploughed and polluted. 

The seeds germinate only when they are exposed to light. The soil around the trenches in the First World War was thoroughly disturbed and infected by the fighting and bombing so the seeds came to light and started to grow.
The poppies are also used for the manufacturing of opium and morphine which was used to treat the wounded soldiers.

The aspect of the flower is highly symbolic: the petals are red as blood, the Interior of the flower is black as the color of mourning, and the heart is shaped like a cross, the Christian symbol of suffering and redemption.

In Flanders Fields is a poem by the Canadian military doctor and poet major John McCrae.
He was inspired to write it on May 3, 1915, after presiding over the funeral of friend and fellow soldier Alexis Helmer at Essex farm, 2 km north of the Centre of Ypres.


Nieuwpoort’s sluice complex ‘De Ganzenpoot’ or ‘Goose foot’
Nieuwpoort’s sluice complex is better known as ‘De Ganzenpoot’ or ‘Goose foot’.
Their name refers to the complex’s shape. It played a crucial role during World War I.
In October 1914 Karel Cogge, Superintendent of the North watering of Veurne, took Robert Thys, reserve captain of the genius to the Kattesas (also known as Spanish sluis) in Nieuwpoort, opened the sluices and so ensured the flooding of the IJzer plains. Because of that the advance of the German troops came to an end. Because of the sluices, the area remained submerged for the rest of the war.
For his contribution to the inundation Karel Cogge got on 4 November 1914 by King Albert I the Knight cross of the order of Leopold.

The Battle of the Yser
The Battle of the Yser was a battle which took place in October 1914 between the towns on Nieuwpoort and Dixmude along a 35-kilometre (22 mi) long stretch of the Yser River and Yperlee canal in Belgium.
The front line was held by a large Belgian force which succeeded in halting the German advance, though only after heavy losses. After two months of defeats and retreats, the battle of Yser finally halted the invasion that gave Germans control of over 95% of Belgian territory.
On 25 October, the German pressure on the Belgians was so great, that a decision was taken to inundate the entire Belgian front line. After an earlier failed experiment on 21 October, the Belgians managed to open the sluices at Nieuwpoort during the nights of 26–29 October during high tides, steadily raising the water level until an impassable flooded area was created about 1-mile (1.6 km) wide, stretching as far south as Dixsmude. On 10 November, Dixsmude fell and the fighting continued until 22 November further south, in the First Battle of Ypres.

The end of the war

With the help of the Americans, the Germans were driven back in September 1918 at St.Quentin.At the end of October unrest broke out in Germany due to shortages, war-weariness and left-wing political agitation. A mutiny broke out in the port city of Kiel. The unrest extended rapidly over Germany.The German Emperor Wilhelm II fled to the Netherlands and a day later Karl I of Austria abdicated.On November 11, 1918, the French, the English and the Germans undersigned a ceasefire in a train carriage in Compiègne (near Paris) and the first world war is over. The peace, however, was only officially when on June 28, 1919 the Treaty of Versailles was signed.This radically changed the map of Europe and the balance of power in the world.