de Dodengang

The Trench of Death

On the edge of the town of Diksmuide you will see the IJzertor Tower.

IJzertor IJzertor at Diksmuide

If you cross the river and then turn right along the Ijzerdijk, following the signs for the Dodengang, you will come to this preserved Belgian Trench system known as le Boyau de la Mort in French.

In the final days of the race to the sea at the end of 1914 the Belgians flooded the area between here and the coast. However at this bend in the IJzer river the flooding was at its limit and it was impossible to leave the area unguarded.

Looking countrywards along the trench system

Looking northwards towards the German positions

Just to the north of the trenches you will find an Albertina Marker showing the presence of a set of Petrol Tanks and in this position the Germans had erected an observation post which commanded the area.

In an attempt to remove this obstacle the Belgians began this trench system in May 1915, slowly pushing it northwards by a series of saps (a sap is a shallow tunnel which can be quickly opened up into a trench).

What the Belgians hadn't realised was that the Germans were doing exactly the same southwards. Eventually the two sides found themselves only a matter of metres apart and began fortifying their positions.

The panel at the entrance

The head of the Dodengang became known as the Mousetrap with sniper's positions on all three sides to catch any infiltration by the Germans.

The trench system would be held continuously by the Belgian Army from henceforth until the commencement of the victory advance in September 1918.

A three day roulement system was set up and most regiments of the Belgian Army would spend time here, in one of their most dangerous and exposed positions.

The casualty rate soon gave the trench system its nickname and with justification as the Germans not only bombarded the system incessantly, but constantly tried to take it by raids.

In 1998 the Belgian Army began a restoration programme to restore a section of the trenches to their former state - only in concrete!

On entering the museum a small plaque recounts that:

Here our army held the invader in check.

The Trenches are open on a daily basis from April to 11 November and at weekends the rest of the year. Note that they close at lunch time.

Looking back down the IJzer towards Diksmuide

Looking back down the IJzer towards Diksmuide and the mill

As you enter the trenches it needs to be remembered that you are also walking towards the German positions. It was not a simple case of the Belgians on one side of the river and the Germans on the other. The Belgians were exposed on three sides.

Diksmuide itself had been taken by the Germans on 11 November 1914 after a gallant defence by the Belgians and a detachment of 6000 Fusiliers Marins of the French Navy under Amiral Ronarc'h.

From there they used a gun emplacement at the old flour mill - la Minoterie - to great effect.

On 11 October 1915 in an effort to try and ease their plight the Belgian Engineers blew a hole in the dike

All replenishments and reinforcements had to be carried out by two foot bridges directly under the eye of the Germans across the water logged fields created by the flooding. One of them towards Lettenburg was used to bring in reinforcements and supplies whilst the other towards the village of Kaaskerke which is just behind the trenches. This was used to bring up the sandbags (called: patriotes) which were badly needed to repair their positions.

Note the demarcation stone (No 12) on the IJzer bank

At the very far end you will find one of the Touring Club of Belgium's Demarcation Stones marking the limit of the German advance. It was unveiled by King Albert I in 1922.