VEURNE to PASSENDALE

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de moeren

ijzer

ijzer

ijzer

ijzer

klerken mill

langemarck

graventafel

graventafel

graventafel

graventafel

graventafel

passendale

passendale

passendale

passendale

passendale

passendale

passendale

passendale

passendale

houthulst

hooglede

The landscape to the North of Ypres includes some of the areas of bitterest fighting in the First World War. From the flooded landscape around Diksmuide to the Passendale Ridge the area was under constant pressure throughout the war.

At the northern end of the region is the flat landscape of De Moeren. This type of landscape seems to be most people's preconception of Belgium but is in fact restricted to the coastal region. It is reclaimed marshland and was drained in 1627 using windmills to pump out the water and dykes to maintain the drainage. Although the landscape of De Moeren seems similar to the flat fen style landscape around Dixmuide appearances can be deceptive. When viewed on a map it becomes apparent just how carefully planned the dykes are in this area. The flat lands elsewhere have a web of streams and ditches interlaced across them but on De Moeren the drainage is laid out to a precise grid with absolutely straight roads crossing the landscape. Further south lies Knokkebrug on the Ijzer at the point where the canal to Ypres joins it from the southeast and the Ijzer swings to the North as it progresses towards the sea. The water here is fairly quiet apart from fishermen and walkers on the towpath.

The village of Passendale, known to history as Passchendaele, lies on a ridge to the northeast of Ypres. Although not that high this ridge is sufficient to dominate the flat land around, and to the north of, Ypres. The ridge was occupied in 1914 by the Germans, enabling them to control a huge area with their artillery, until it was finally taken at the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) in 1917. The landscape over which this battle was fought was a virtual swamp due to the destruction of the field drains by the artillery duels. This battle does have a reputation of particular pointlessness and appalling conditions but despite the losses to the allies it did inflict irreplaceable losses of men and material on the Germans. The ground gained in 1917 was lost again the following year when the German spring offensive pushed the allies back almost to the gates of Ypres.

While the village is now completely rebuilt, the field drainage restored, and the agriculture dominant in the landscape, history does keep turning up in the form of unexploded shells. The soft ground meant that an unusually large number of shells failed to explode and these continue to present a hazard to the local population. As can be seen from the images the ground turns to heavy mud very easily and if it was not well drained would be unworkable.

Houthulst Forest is to the north of Passendale . During the War this hid a long range German artillery battery and German encampments. It is now the home to the centre of the team who dispose of all of the unexploded shells and other weaponry found across the region. The shells are analysed for type, explosive or gas, and then stacked for eventual disposal. The explosive shells are blown up while the gas shells are emptied in a sealed facility and subsequently incinerated. Unfortunately, the shells do still claim victims and several of the disposal team have been injured over the years. Not only do the explosives remain dangerous, and the gas highly toxic, but after years corroding in the ground the shells can be very unstable.

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