Bombs By The Gate
Even a century after WWI, between 150 and 200 tonnes of buried metal are pulled out of the ground by Belgian farmers every year. More than a billion shells were fired during the war, but a third of those did not explode. Belgian army bomb disposal units still make their rounds collecting live ammunition locals find in the fields so it can be safely detonated. Unsurprisingly this is a dangerous job, and since the unit was formed in 1919, over 20 members have lost their lives. In 2013 around 160 tonnes of the deadly ‘iron harvest’ were dug up just in the region around Ypres where Dean and Freddy are exploring.
Hellish Hades Dugout
Hidden under the streets of Wieltje are a series of underground tunnels with a hellish reputation, they’re known as Hades Dugout. To receive medical attention, casualties were lowered into the dugout with ropes to reach the ‘advanced dressing station’. Underground, conditions were far from pleasant. German prisoners were often used to carry the injured from the front, but during the Battle of Broodseinde, Thomas O’Gorman’s company commander struggled to get stretcher bearers. He was wounded on October 4th, but an injured Thomas did not reach the dressing station until two days later where he later died. Freddy shows Dean a model dugout at Passchendaele Museum. (To see the horror of the real thing, check out at the Canadian chapter.)
Bird’s Eye View
WWI is sometimes called ‘the first modern war’ because the technology created for these campaigns is still used by the military today. Reconnaissance planes were originally used on the Western Front, where aerial photography quickly became an essential weapon. Highly detailed battlefield photos helped commanders understand the landscape ahead of them, and scope out enemy positions. Photos were taken under extreme conditions, and aircraft were often shot at while flying over enemy territory. In Flanders Fields museum expert Birger Stichelbaut combines the large glass-plate photos, with present day satellite images, to investigate battlefields in a low impact way. The bird’s eye view is proving just as useful now as 100 years ago.