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Webmatters : French 81e Division d'Infanterie Territoriale Memorial at Nieuwpoort
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81e Division d'Infanterie Territoriale

Location

Nieuwpoort is a town in the Province of West Flanders on the south-west side of the River IJzer (Yser), three kilometres from the sea. Note that you are travelling towards Nieuwpoort (Stad) and not Nieuwpoort-Bad which is on the coast.

The main road into the town is the N 39 (Astridlaan) and this brings you out to the banks of the IJzer river. Stay on the Astridlaan, do not follow the signs for Centrum.

You will come out at a large roundabout.

The road system can appear overly complicated by the double tram line that runs along it. Be very careful that you do not turn down it instead of the road.

The King Albert Memorial

The King Albert Memorial

The memorial is close to the King Albert Monument and the Westfront Centre (worthy of a visit for an explanation of the inundation of the polders via the nearby sluice gates).

At the roundabout turn right towards Middlekerke. This requires crossing the tramway before you do so. The memorial will soon be visible off to your left. Follow the signs for Middlekerke then Westfront. Parking can be had alongside the CWGC Nieuport Memorial to the Missing. To visit the Ganzepoot sluice system it would be easiest to park near to the Westfront and then walk around the gate system.

GPS N E Wikimapia
Decimal 51.135901 2.757847 Map

 

History

In October 1914 the German arrived in front of Nieuwpoort at the western limit of the Race to the Sea. Although French reserves were sent to assist the Belgian Army, there was grave doubt about the Allies’ ability to hold the line long enough.

On 25th October 1914 King Albert gave his permission to commence flooding the polders between the IJzer River and the railway line between Nieuwpoort and Diksmuide (The railway embankment which formed a barrage against the floods is now a popular cycle track — Frontzate).

At the end of October French reinforcements arrived to bolster the Belgian Army. The 81e DIT arrived up from the Somme at the end of that month and were immediately involved in taking back part of the right bank of the IJzer from the Germans at Lombardside.

They remained in the Veurne/Nieuwpoort area until 1915.

The division was commanded by Général Margot until 8th December 1914 when he was replaced by Général Bajolle.

 

The Memorial

Monument to the 81e DIT

The memorial was inaugurated on 7th October 1928.

The column is inscribed with the names of the units serving within the Division. The Territorial divisions were (certainly at the beginning of the war) made up of older soldiers being called back to the colours for service. Most would have been in their thirties or forties and would have been referred to as the granddads of the army.

Do not confuse these units with the ordinary Regiments and Divisions of the French. The Territorial units always carried the T in their title. Thus, the 12e RIT (Régiment d’Infantérie Territoriale) are not the same as the 12e RI (Régiment d’Infantérie), the latter being the active regiment of conscripted soldiers.

The Spahis mentioned on the column were light cavalry raised in the French North African colonies.

 

Other memorials nearby