As we near Diksmuide, the chapel and observation post at Oud-Stuivekens, just half a mile west of the Yser, are well worth a visit.
Well forward of the Belgian front lines along the railway embankment, and in 1914 very much within the flooded area, what was once a church was converted into an observation post by the Belgians.
Memorial plaque on the wall (above & below) to a Belgian Artillery Officer, Martial Lekeux…
…who appears to have also been a Franciscan monk, although quite how that works, I am not entirely sure*. Whatever, he bravely manned this observation post for much of the war.
*I am now – see Chris’s comments at the end of the post.
The entrance faces east but I doubt that it did that during the war, for obvious reasons.
No idea. (Me either—B). Thank you Baldrick, thank you.
Steps take us up to the top of the tower…
…where an orientation table allows us to, er, orientate ourselves.
This view looks north…
…and this one east (note the bunker), across fields that would have been under water, for the most part, in late October 1914. Gradually, as time passed, the waters would recede, but the land around here would never be less than a vast bog, virtually impossible to attack across, both sides defenses would be be greatly improved and fortified in the coming months, and stalemate, as elsewhere along the Western Front, would ensue.
In the middle distance to the left, a red-roofed bungalow on the banks of the Yser shows just how close the canal is from this point, and just how dangerous it would have been for the observers here.
Over the fields, away to the south east, the Yser Tower in Diksmuide dominates the skyline. These fields too, would have been under water for the most part, although the extent of the flooding did not reach as far south as the town itself.
And this view looks south west, where half a mile away the railway embankment (now the Frontzate cycling path) would have been a place of sanctuary for the men manning this forlorn outpost.
The Trench of Death and Diksmuide, the final two destinations on our tour.
Panoramic view from east to south across the polders.
Memorial, once a headstone, of a Belgian Corporal killed somewhere hereabouts in December 1914.
Our very own Baldrick translates:
“In the district of Oud-Stuivenskerke, now known as Little O.L.V.-Hoekje (Our Dear Mother Mary Corner), the parochial church of Stuivenskerke was located until 1870. During WWI, Oud-Stuivenskerke was an advance post of the Belgian army, and the old tower of the former parochial church was used as an observation post. Today, the domain O.L.V.-Hoekje (Corner) consists of the O.L.V.-ter Zege Chapel (1925), the rubble of the destroyed church tower with orientational table which points to the 35 most important places of the war; two big monuments for those who died and 41 small remembrance stones of the military units that took part in the Battle of the Yser from 18 to 31 October 1914; as well as the Demarcation Stone with Belgian helmet and inscription.”
Baldrick keeps a wary eye on a group of doubtless harmless cyclists who briefly, as it turned out, disturbed his musings. Always on his guard, our Balders. You just never know. You will also notice another Demarcation Stone (I kept quiet about this one – thought I’d surprise you)…
…positioned just next to the tower.
As you know well by now, these stones were erected to mark the furthest point west that the Germans managed to advance at any time during the war, and many of them still survive, all the way down to the Swiss border. And that in itself tells the story of Oud-Stuivekens. Belgian troops first occupied it on 24th October 1914, fearing that the Germans, who had gained a foothold across the Yser at Tervaete, might be considering an attack on Diksmuide down the west bank of the canal. Thereafter the position came under constant German attack during the Battle of the Yser, and I cannot imagine that it was ever a safe position for the next four years, but it never fell into enemy hands.
For more, much more, on Belgian Demarcation Stones, click here: Potijze Demarcation Stone
Between the observation post and the chapel, this memorial remembers the men of the 1st & 2nd Battalion Riflemen Cyclists who lost their lives during the Great War.
The memorial Chapel of Our Lady Victorious was built in 1925 and commemorates the 40,000 Belgians who died in defence of their country during the Great War.
It is encircled, on three sides at least, by memorials to 41 Belgian regiments who fought in the Yser sector during the war. Now you know me, and yes, of course I photographed each of them individually. However, I have thoughtfully placed these photos at the end of the post, so that those of you disinclined to wade through them don’t have to. Don’t say I don’t think about you.
Another memorial, to the north of the chapel, this time to the 5th Regiment of Lancers.
The information tablet is worth enlarging; the map shows our location, almost dead centre between the old railway line and the Yser.
Inside the chapel…
…memorials to individuals who lost their lives in the fighting hereabouts are affixed to the walls.
Most are casualties of the fighting in 1914…
…although the cracked headstone at the bottom, you will notice, is that of a man killed later in the war, in 1916.
I don’t know for sure, but it seems logical to suggest that this bell is a survivor from the church (now the observation post) that once stood next door.
Another casualty of the Battle of the Yser.
On the left St. George slays the dragon, while on the right…
…this window celebrates, if that’s not a misnomer, the observation post, and, by the looks of it, the courage of Martial Lekeux as well.
Or maybe this is him. Probably both are. The dog collar might provide a clue.
A more modern commemorative window. Another memorial to the men of the 5th Lancers?
King Albert, in military uniform, and his Queen, Elisabeth, are remembered in the centre windows.
As we leave Oud-Stuivekens and continue our journey south,…
…we once again encounter the cycling path, the Frontzate, which runs all the way from Nieuwpoort to Dixmuide, following the route of the old railway embankment where the Belgians and French eventually succeeded in halting the German advance. An Albertina Marker has been placed next to the path to remember the fighting here during the Battle of the Yser. Once again we are standing on the Belgian front line in October 1914, imagining the fields to the left slowly disappearing under the rising flood waters.
For those of you with strong dispositions, there now follows, as I mentioned previously, individual photos of all 41 of the Belgian Regimental memorials that surround the little chapel we have just visited at Oud-Stuivekens. All can be enlarged, should you wish to have a closer look. Alternatively, you could stop here and wait for the next post, where we will take a look around a reconstructed trench system on the very banks of the Yser where the Belgians held an exposed line throughout the war.
You do, however, get a photo of an angry Belgian sky for your perseverance…
…as well as this rather neat postcard I found in my collection of French Lancers fishing in the inundated polders…
…and a photo showing one of the Belgian duckboards that led across the flooded fields to outposts like Oud-Stuivekens.
Onwards to the Trench of Death. Not something you say every day, thankfully.
Thank you for these marvellous pictures.
I shall never go to the Western Front, but your photos take me there.
That’s very kind of you Kathryn. Glad you’re enjoying them. It’s nice to know there’s someone out there who’s enjoying this particular tour! Keep tuning in.
Having initially brought up the possibility of a “Belgian Sector” series, I have to say I love how you ended up running with the idea. I vividly remember a splendid, insightful weekend, and am enjoying each and every post you’ve published so far on the topic. Kudos my friend. See you in April.
Thankee kindly Balders. You were indeed the instigator of this little escapade, so I am pleased it meets with your approval. It’s been hard work at times, I tell you, but I have enjoyed doing it. Mind you, I shall have a break when the final post is done (two to go). I shall need one. Now, what kind of break? I know! How about an April adventure? See you there!
Thanks again, good Sir. Couldn’t do it without ya!
One correction concerning the ” Memorial plaque on the wall (above & below) to a French Artillery Officer, Martial Lekeux…”.
Father Lekeux was Belgian. He went to the royal academy to become an officer, but decided to leave the army to become a monk. At the start of the war, he volunteered and got the rank of 1st Lieutenant. At the end of the war, he had the rank of “Kapitein-Commandant ( a rank between captain and major) and re-entered his monastery.
Excellent. Thank you. I have amended the post, as you will see.