Opposing elements of misery and glory marked the Belgian section of the Western front called The Trench of Death between 1914 and 1918, where regiment after regiment of the Belgian army struggled under unbearably harsh conditions to prevent the German advance toward France at the point where it was halted temporarily by a flood (between Nieuwpoort and Diksmuide). The Germans had fitted a base with petrol tanks near the Ijzer river, and it was heavily armed with machine guns.
In 1915, under heavy fire, Belgians started digging a trench along the west bank of the river to try to retake the base. Through the use of saps (the extension of a trench to a point below the enemy fortifications), both sides got closer to each other until they were yards apart. The attacks were incessant, the trenches narrow, the soldiers sitting ducks for mortar attacks. Finally, in 1917 the Belgians built a big concrete shelter with lookout holes called the "Mouse Trap" to stop the Germans from infiltrating the Belgian trenches at the ends of the saps.
Life was rigorous in the trenches. Belgian soldiers manned the trenches for three days straight, then got three days rest in a cantonment in the rear combat zone.
The Trench of Death near Diksmuide remained the heart of the Belgian resistance until the successful Anglo-Belgian offensive called the Battle of Flanders began on 28 September 1918.
Visiting The Trench of Death at Diksmuide (Dixmude) Belgium
Pictures can't tell the whole story. The scale and location of the trenches must be seen and felt. Visiting the Trench of Death is free.
The Trench of Death is open from 9 am-12:30 pm and 1-5 pm from April 1 to September 30. Outside of these dates it is only open on weekends. There is a cafe outside the monument.
From Diksmuide, take the Ijzerdijk north for 1.5 km. The monument is on the right.
Other Places to Visit
The Ysertower. Just outside the western edge of Dixmude, you'll find the Pax-tower, the Crypt, and the Ysertower, together forming the European Peacedomain. You'll get a great view of the surrounding countryside from 84 meters up, and you'll get an idea of the life of soldiers from the 22 floors of the museum.
The town of Dixmude, or Diksmuide, has been rebuilt quite expertly after heavy bombing during WWI, which reduced the town to rubble. There are quite a few hotels in town.
The preservation work done on the Trench of Death makes it difficult to feel the conditions that must have existed at the time. The place is clean, orderly, and reinforced with concrete. Many feel that a visit to Croonart Wood gives a better idea of conditions.
South of Dixmude you'll find the Blankaart Nature Preserve, a shallow lake formed from the harvesting of peat for heating in the 15th and 16th century. Interesting nature walks start from the visitors center, where you can pick up wildlife and other visitor information. There is an outdoor cafe at the entrance.