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The Great War

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Permanent exposition

History

On the 4th of august 1914 the first German troops crossed the Belgian border. Their march only ended in November, not in Paris as they had expected, but in Nieuwpoort, behind the submerged plains of the Yser. The Germans got pushed back by a plain of water of 12 by 4 kilometers. In those three months, tens of thousands of soldiers lost their lives here – on the Belgian side more than five thousand casualties could be counted.

The inundation

At the end of October 1914 the Belgian army almost lost the Battle of the Yser. The army top, under the leadership of King Albert I, decided to play for high stakes and created the daring plan to inundate the polders. The plan knew two key figures: Karel Cogge, supervisor of the North-polder waterways of Veurne and skipper Hendrik Geeraert. Cogge had great knowledge of the hydraulic net in the region, while Geeraert knew how to use and manipulate the sluices and drains to their gain. Together they opened the sluices of the Noordvaart. These sluices are part of the bigger complex of ‘De Ganzepoot’. By opening these sluices the water could flow into the hinterland, causing it to rise above its banks and submerge the plains of the Yser. The enemy was force to retreat. Cogge and Geeraert entered many history books, but they were only a few of the many heroes during this period.

The inundations of 1914 were just the start of something greater. Four years long the inundation of these plains were maintained. Filling sandbags, lowering or rising the water when needed, building bridges, repairing bomb-damaged structures, breaking the ice in the cold winter to avoid an invasion by the enemy,… Heavy work in extremely dangerous conditions.
The front stabilized because of the inundations up until the final offensive in 1918.