Spring Battlefields 2019 Day Eight: Leaving via Nieuwpoort - Kathryn's history blog

Friday, 5 April 2019

Spring Battlefields 2019 Day Eight: Leaving via Nieuwpoort


My last day on the battlefields, as ever, came round all too quickly. I do feel that a week is the perfect length for my trips and any longer would become tiring, but I feel so settled here now that I don't want to return home.

On my way back towards Dunkirk for the ferry, I decided to go via Nieuwpoort (or Nieuport), scene of the Belgian Army's brave last stand in October 1914 and the end of the 'Race to the Sea'. Nieuwpoort was important not only as a coastal town, but also as the control point for the waterways of West Flanders, as I would see on my visit.

Driving into the town, it was hard to miss the huge King Albert I memorial. This is a huge tribute to the Belgian king who reigned from 1909 to 1934, with a large bronze sculpture of him as the 'Knight King'. It was inaugurated in 1938, following the involvement of the national veterans' association. It really is quite staggering in size. There is a walkway round the top that can be visited, giving (rather windy) views right out across to the Kemmelberg maybe 30 miles away.

This walkway also gives a really good perspective over the 'Ganzepoot' (goose foot), a network of locks leading into the waterways of West Flanders, by which the memorial stands. It was the location of this lock system that made the town so important in the First World War, and the Belgian defence of it in 1914 was what won King Albert his soldier-king reputation.

The small Westfront Museum underneath the memorial demonstrates the significance of this water system on Belgium in the First World War, with a good explanation of the Battle of the Yser in October 1914. The lock gates of the Ganzepoot were systematically opened to allow the land to the east to flood and prevent the German advance over the remaining corner of Belgium. The museum was really interesting, offering a lot of information in a really engaging way in four languages.

I hadn't given much thought to the Battle of the Yser in the past, so it was really interesting to learn about it and how the Belgian Army were able to stall the German advance.

In front of the Albert Memorial is a smaller one dedicated to the British soldiers with no known grave both from the 1914 Siege of Antwerp and from the Summer of 1917 when British forces were stationed here to prepare for the aborted amphibious landings which had been code-named 'Operation Hush'.

After visiting this, I decided to drive up to the coast to have lunch on the beach. The front here is a really big, flat beach with white sand, not dissimilar from that towards Dunkirk. Although it was sunny, it was pretty cold and windy and so I decided to head off for the ferry port and catch an earlier boat home.

There's always a melancholy feeling to the last day of a battlefields trip. I know a week is the right length of time and I've done most of what I'd planned to, but equally there's always so much more to see and I'm already thinking of where else I'd like to go.

On this trip, even though I have visited the Ypres area a few times before, I found it really interesting to cycle the fronts of a few of the battles, including the 16th Division at Messines, and the 45th Algerian at Second Ypres. I also enjoyed my walk out around Hooge, and of course going to see Gent-Wevelgem.

However, I think the biggest benefit to my trip this time around has been the use of Linesman Great War Digital mapping. I'm so pleased I finally decided to invest in it as it really has transformed how I've seen the landscape, and now I really want to go back and walk everywhere I've been on the Somme with the addition of the original trench maps! I'd really recommend considering getting it if you're a frequent battlefields visitor.

So, until next time, thank you everyone who has read my posts, liked my photos on Twitter and Instagram, or sent me kind messages. I really enjoy sharing my battlefields visits with you all and I can't wait to do it again. In the mean time, be sure to catch up on any posts you've missed or my previous trips here, and to read my other First World War articles here. I post something every Sunday at 18:30, although this week I may just take a rest.

Kathryn

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