A Tour of Boesinghe Part Twelve – Lizerne: 3rd Line Regiment & Van Raemdonck Brothers Memorials


Three hundred yards north of the Cross of Reconciliation, the main road we have followed so far this tour (with detours, of course – where would we be without detours) along the western bank of the Ypres Canal from Essex Farm, turns in a wide sweeping curve to the north east, crossing the canal on its way to Diksmuide.


And just before it does,…


…this roadside memorial remembers the men of the French 3rd Line Regiment who fought here in April 1915.


Plaques, in both Flemish (above) & French (below), on each side of the low wall that part encloses the memorial, remember 162 soldiers of the regiment who were killed between 24th April & 10th May during the Second Battle of Ypres which began, as the plaques say, with the German gas attack of 22nd April.



As simple a memorial as you could get, really, white cross and crusader sword, but effective for its simplicity.


Looking north west across the road, the memorial behind us, the canal just out of shot to the right.  Trenches, very wet trenches, between front and support lines, would have crossed these fields to reach the men in the front line trench along the canal bank.

Just before we cross the bridge,…


…down on the canal bank to our right, Baldrick photographs…


…another reminder of the first gas attacks.


Looking south down the canal, just fifty feet wide at this point; strip the trees, paint the landscape brown, and add trenches along each canal bank.  Imagine.


Right, back to the bridge, and as we go, let’s have another look at the trench map I showed you a couple of posts ago.

The 3rd Line Regiment Memorial is marked in pink, and our next stop, and the northernmost point of our tour, in blue.  The Belgian Grenadiers Memorial is marked in green, and the Cross of Reconciliation in orange.  I’ve mentioned it before, I know, but the close proximity of the front line trenches on either side of the canal south of the bridge is so evident on this map (I am convinced that Relêve Avenue, in the bottom right hand corner, led to a latrine), and I simply cannot imagine what life, or death, would have been like for the men garrisoning these trenches.

So, without further ado we say goodbye to the land to the west of the canal, where we have spent the first half of our tour,…

…and cross to the eastern side,…


…where we are going to have to leave the car on that slip road on the left,…


…and follow the cycle track along the far bank to reach the northernmost point of our tour.  And as Baldrick & I don’t do bicycles, it’s a canal walk for us, and you.

And look, the sun has come out!  And the trees are green and the flowers are blooming.  Oh, the wonders of modern science.

It’s a bit of a walk, but finally, across the fields, a flag (hopefully) marks the spot,…

…and indeed it does,…

…as eventually,…

…the memorial we are looking for comes into sight.  I have often wondered whether I would ever visit this particular memorial, having already paid my respects at the 3rd Line Regiment Memorial some time ago without making the canal walk here, because there is little to see apart from some pretty flat countryside.  Suffice to say that a walk along the line of the German trenches along the canal bank on a pleasant day like this proved well worthwhile.

Curious looking thing, eh?

This view made Baldrick very cross.  I shall leave it at that.

A grass pathway takes us across the field to the memorial, and if you look at the trench map again, you will notice at this point that although the Belgian front line continues along the western canal bank, the German front line, which has so far also followed the canal bank all the way from Boesinghe, now moves a few hundred yards into the fields ahead of us, creating a No Man’s Land between the German trenches and the eastern canal bank.

This memorial therefore actually stands in what was once No Man’s Land, and remembers the actions of two Belgian brothers, Frans & Edward Van Raemdonck, both sergeants in the 24th Line Regiment.  Incidentally, on 31st July 1917 this spot would be the absolute northernmost point of the Allied attack on the first day of the Third Battle of Ypres, two French divisions attacking across the canal here, successfully pushing the Germans back and recapturing Bixschoote, some way beyond the buildings in the right background of this shot, by the end of that first day.  More on the opening actions of Third Ypres later in the tour.

The Van Raemdonck brothers memorial is made from blocks taken from a German strongpoint known as the Stampkopstelungen which stood here,…

…or certainly close by, one or the other.

On 26th March 1917 the brothers were part of a Belgian raid on the Stampkopstelungen, crossing the canal with the aim of snatching a German soldier and returning to the Belgian lines with their captive.

The raid went wrong, and twenty year old Frans was caught in a storm of German bullets.  Against orders, his brother, two years older, went back to find him.

A few weeks later, the bodies of both brothers, along with another Belgian, this time a French-speaking Walloon named Aimé Fievez, were discovered, legend says, arm-in-arm.

The recovered bodies were buried in Westvletern Belgian Cemetery beneath three named headstones,…

…and, as the decades passed, the fate of the Van Raemdonck brothers and Aimé Fievez began to strike a chord with the Belgian public.

So much so that in 1973 it was decided (by whom, I wonder) to exhume the bodies (now this next bit is pure supposition, but logical, intelligent supposition), presumably of just the two brothers (end of supposition), and re-inter them in the crypt of the Yser Tower (Ijzertor) in Diksmuide, the epicentre for Flemish martyrs and focus of all things right-wing in Belgium at the time.

Unfortunately for the nationalists, beneath the three headstones in Westvletern Belgian Cemetery lay a single coffin containing the unidentifiable remains of three soldiers.

The bodies were still reinterred at the Yser Tower, and so now, with great irony, the body of a Walloon lies at the place sacred to Flemish martyrs.

Looking south, the trees on the far right growing along the canal bank.

Nothing to see inside except the above – perhaps with the names of the memorial builders etched on it.

The Yser Tower was for many years a focus for all things right-wing in Belgian Flanders, although the authorities frown on such things there these days, so the Van Raemdonck brothers memorial has become a substitute for Belgian nationalism (Edward Van Raemdonck was a dedicated nationalist even before the war began), hence the flag flying atop the memorial…

…and the posters we saw earlier, and pass again, as we leave the memorial behind.  The inset shows the plaque at the Yser Tower on which all three men’s names are inscribed.

As we begin our walk back along the canal side, never forgetting that we are once more walking along the line of the German front line trenches, should you wish to see more of the canal, either because you haven’t been there before, or because you remember that the post I am referring to was so damned good it’s worth re-visiting, some eight miles further north the Belgian Army, much like the French at Verdun, were rotated through a section of the line known as the Dodengang, or Trench of Death, and you can take a tour of the trench here.

On this tour, however, we should really be heading south east some two and a half miles, to the fields on the eastern side of the canal directly opposite Boesinghe,…

…right about here, in fact, Boesinghe church on the horizon over the canal.  But on the way Baldrick & I are going to make a short diversion to take in a large German bunker, built by the Germans in the winter of 1915-1916, on the Pilckem Ridge, so you might as well come with us.

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