A mile and three quarters south east of the Van Raemdonck Brothers Memorial, two miles almost due west of the centre of Langemark, and just under a mile north of our next stop in the fields opposite Boesinghe, this is the so-called Ziegler Bunker, built by the Germans in the winter of 1915-1916.
The name derives from the engineering officer in charge of the Deutsche Marinekorps Flandern (German Marine Corps Flanders) unit responsible for its construction, so the story goes, although some say that Ziegler himself referred to the construction as the ‘Viking Ship’. The Marine Corps Flanders was primarily responsible for naval and aerial operations in the English Channel, their construction crews as likely to be found building what in the end would total thirty four gun batteries along the Belgian coast than bunkers like this inland.
Anyway, this is the oft-mentioned Pilckem Ridge, ridge perhaps being somewhat of a misnomer, but any kind of higher ground was crucial, and the Germans held this land for more than two years until Third Ypres.
One of two original German entrances to the bunker, sensibly now utilised by the farmer.
Used by the Germans until the start of Third Ypres, the bunker was captured by the French on 31st July 1917 during the Battle of the Pilkem Ridge, and later adapted by the Royal Engineers to suit British purposes.
Which, logically, might suggest that this large protuberance projecting from what was the rear, eastern side of the bunker when in German occupancy, is one of the modifications made by the British, as it now faced the German lines as they retreated east.
A closer look suggests otherwise. The outside concrete seems the same as the rest of the bunker, despite the obvious colour difference, and exactly where did the British find the same roofing material to use if they built this, unless they re-roofed the whole bunker? And if both apertures on this rear side of the bunker were made by the British, why raise one ten feet higher than the other, with all the added difficulty of having to raise a heavy artillery piece to fire through the opening. No, it doesn’t make any sense to me. The Ziegler Bunker was constructed as a signalling bunker, and I am reasonably sure that these apertures facing east contained equipment to signal towards German headquarters in the rear.
Whatever signalling equipment, and I would presume it was light based, was installed here, you can clearly see two shallow niches in the concrete roof at the back where I suspect some sort of frame, whether metal of wood, was fitted to keep the apparatus from moving, particularly during periods of Allied shellfire. The thickness of the walls and the shape of the aperture would surely be instrumental in reducing glare at night.
The second bunker entrance,…
…through which it appears I am being observed.
To the right of the entrance, another aperture, this time at ground level. Looking carefully at this lower of the two apertures, there appears to be nothing similar to the other one on the ceiling, but there are clear recesses (particularly visible on the right wall) that must have contained wooden slats or similar, and anyway, signalling equipment sited at ground level would surely be considerably easier to keep steady than equipment positioned ten foot in the air.
Although I was unable to get to the far side of the bunker, the side facing the Allies before the French captured the place, I have seen photos showing much of it had suffered severe damage, presumably from the shelling prior to and during the Battle of the Pilckem Ridge, and perhaps British defensive shelling in the spring of 1918 (they certainly would have known the coordinates). There are also what appear to be two craters nearby, one just beneath the tree on the far right,…
…and one in the field just past the bunker where the small bush is growing. And if you look very carefully beyond the bush, immediately to the left of the conical tree on the horizon, the spire of Boesinghe church can just be seen, and that is exactly the way we are now heading.