The road leads north to Ypres (Ieper), less than two miles ahead of us, but, as with so many places in Flanders, if you keep your eyes peeled, there are things to see on the way.
In fact there are two things of interest to us in the previous photo, the first of which you doubtless spotted on the left hand side.
The tenth Demarcation Stone, I think, that we have come across in Belgium, along with a couple in France,…
…this one inscribed with Ypres beneath the British helmet.
There appears to be no writing of any sort remaining on the Stone,…
…and hardly any sign of the British water bottle usually found carved on this side.
In fact it’s fair to say that this Stone is not exactly in the best of condition,…
…but then it is sited on a main road,…
…as is obvious by the vast amount of traffic passing by!
The carved British gas mask case…
…for the Small Box Respirator…
…still adorns this side.
And, of course, further information on Demarcation Stones can be found here.
So, returning to a similar shot to that with which we started, the other thing, or things, of interest can be seen on the far right,…
…where, beneath the trees, a number of British bunkers are located. Whilst we are looking at this shot, in the distance, some 800 yards further north on the far left, the Cross of Sacrifice in Bedford House Cemetery can just be seen through the trees.
The bunkers are on private land, so unfortunately we can’t get any closer,…
…and they appear to be in remarkably good condition considering their proximity to the front lines and the artillery pounding they undoubtedly would have received.
Known as Lankhof Farm by the British, but often called Langhof Farm, for many years a 17th Century mansion, the Château de Langhof (inset), stood here looking out on an artificial moated island. Until 1914, that is, when German artillery reduced the chateau to ruins during the First Battle of Ypres.
For the next two and a half years the site was close to the front lines, as you can see on the above trench map, Lankhof Farm near the top, the moat, still there and still water-filled, and which surrounds the bunkers, very evident. Following the road south leads directly to the front lines (the British trenches are in blue, the Germans in red), where the mine craters at St. Eloi, the largest of which are incorporated into the German front line, are clearly marked as red blobs. This map, dated 1st April 1917, shows you the trench systems all the way from St. Eloi east across the canal to the Palingbeek, and further north beyond the railway line in the top right corner to Hill 60. And should you have found yourself high up in a balloon or an aeroplane somewhere in the top left hand corner of the map, and should you have had your camera with you, pointed south towards the German lines,…
…this is the shot you might have taken (it will enlarge magnificently), the St. Eloi craters that you can see on the map in the centre, the road south snaking its way towards the Messines Ridge in the top right hand corner. Oh, and someone appears to be shooting at us – note the black burst of smoke.
During the early years of the war the British had based units here, and in the weeks prior to Third Ypres, the 47th (London) Division sited artillery here for use during the pre-battle bombardment.
The bunkers – there are seven of them – were built by the British in the winter of 1917 following the Battle of Passchendaele, once the weather had dictated that no further offensive operations were possible, their purpose to accommodate troops in safety, quite likely, initially, the artillerymen whose guns abounded in this area.
In November 1917, Royal Engineers of 153 Field Company began building a railway to transport the required material to the site, before construction of the bunkers began. In due course they handed the work over to engineers of the 4th Australian Division; the job of building seven bunkers proved so demanding that the engineers were given a permanent working party of some seventy five men from 13th Infantry Brigade to help in the construction.
The entrances to these two shelters would have been protected by short L-shaped head-height blast walls, much like the entrance to many public conveniences here in the U.K. even today.
The bunker facing us is a good example of what was known as the Large Elephant Steel Shelter, the roofs made of concrete and cast on corrugated iron sheets – hence the use, although almost certainly post-war, of the term ‘Elephant Iron’ for the dome-shaped corrugated iron sheets used.
It is a little bit of a misnomer because at the time these corrugated iron sheets were actually known as Large English Elephants,…
…as you can see on this plan. To construct one of these dugouts three sheets would be fixed together, with an 18 inch overlap, giving a height in the centre of just over six foot, and a width at ground level of nearly eight and a half feet; you can work out for yourselves how many of these three sheet combinations would be required to make one bunker.
Although much of the corrugated iron has now disappeared, one section of three sheets is still in position at the end of one of the bunkers (top inset), and fragments still remain of corrugated iron on the far wall in two others (bottom two inserts, both of which still retain rudimentary fireplaces, the tiles scavenged from the ruins of the chateau, perhaps, or from local farms). If you are the person who took these interior shots, please let me know so that I can credit you, or remove them. In the meantime, I thank you.
Why Elephants? Simply because when a single piece of domed corrugated iron was laid on the ground, or even in the 21st Century protecting logs (inset, seen next to Potijze Chateau Wood Cemetery some years back), it looked somewhat like an elephant’s back.
The walls at either end have been manufactured, again with concrete, cast against a corrugated iron or timber framework,…
…whether pre-cast and transported on-site, or fabricated here, I don’t know.
Logic, however, would surely dictate that these two, at least, were constructed completely on-site, the corrugations on the outside of the nearest bunker suggesting an oblong wooden or metal frame delineating the outline positioned where the bunker now stands, with the domed sheets of elephant iron fitted inside, before the concrete was poured in. Nonetheless, there are clearly significant outward differences between these two bunkers,…
…and some of the others.
One more bunker is just visible, hiding behind the trees, the corrugations on its walls clearly evident.
When the British withdrew from the land gained during Third Ypres, and the Germans began what would be their final offensive of the war, the front lines moved to within a few hundred yards of Lankhof Farm, which then became, for a short period, an important defensive strongpoint for the British. However on 25th April 1918 the Germans succeeded in capturing the bunkers from the men of the Leicester Regiment defending it, and despite a British counter attack, remained in possession of them throughout the summer.
They got no further, though, which explains the placement of the Demarcation Stone across the road.
On 1st September 1918 it was the 30th American Division (you didn’t know that American troops fought this close to Ypres, did you?) who drove the Germans out of Lankhof Farm, in their own words ‘a strongly fortified forward position surrounded by a moat. The fighting was very bitter, but, with co-operation of the artillery……the new line was taken and consolidated’, recapturing the land that you can see in this photograph for the final time. The bunkers, you will be pleased to hear, have been protected now for more than twenty five years.
In Ledegem, one can see (and visit, it is open to the public) an German bunker, also dating from November 1917. Comparing these bunkers with the one of Ledegem, it is striking how primitive they were. The Germans were indeed well ahead of the British in the ‘art’ of building bunkers.
Well I am definitely visiting – I haven’t been to Ledegem for a few years, as you know – definitely this year or next. And that’s a fact.
Just give a sign, and I will be happy to guide you around
You are a gent Filip. Thank you.