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Webmatters : The Belgian Front Line: Westfront Visitors' Centre at Nieuwpoort
Rough Map of Area

Westfront Visitors' Centre

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

At the roundabout turn right towards Middlekerke. This requires crossing the tramway before you do so. The King Albert 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.

The Westfront Visitors’ Centre is under the King Albert Memorial with its main entrance just off the main road around which you have just come.

GPS N E Wikimapia
Decimal 51.135968 2.755916 Map

 

History

On 4th August 1914 the first German troops crossed the Belgian border, their objective being the encirclement of Paris and the French Army. The war of movement came a few months later but not as expected with the surrender of Paris but at Nieuwpoort, behind the submerged plains of the IJzer.

At the end of October 1914 the Belgian army and its French allies almost lost the Battle of the Yser (to give the river its then French name). The Germans were determined to break through at the coast — the race to the sea had reached its final destination.

King, soldiers and civilians came together, creating a plan to flood the polders and force the Germans back.

 

The Centre

The Westfront Visitors' Centre

In the aftermath of the war the Belgian front artist Alfred Bastien painted a monumental panorama of the Battle for the Yser. On a canvas 115 metres wide by 14 metres high he pictured the whole front, from the estuary of the IJzer in Nieuwpoort to Ieper burning in the background.

The original is now kept in conservation but in a large well in the centre of the ground floor visitors are able to view a digital reproduction of the painting in slow motion with areas highlighted and explained.

On the remainder of the ground floor you can look, read and listen to the stories of those who were involved in the operation to create and maintain the inundation. The displays are all multilingual.

The two, perhaps unlikely, heroes of the hour were two civilians. Karel Cogge, supervisor of the Noordwatering waterways of Veurne and skipper Hendrik Geeraert. Cogge had great knowledge of the hydraulic net in the region, whilst Geeraert knew how to use and manipulate the sluices and drains (the civilian lock keepers had been relieved by the military ! Fortunately Geeraert had not joined the other refugees.).

Together they opened the sluices of the Noordvaart, part of the bigger complex of De Ganzepoot a hundred metres away. Models explain the layout of the locks and sluice gates which can (and should be) visited outside.

Creating the inundations of 1914 were just the start of things. For four years the inundation had to be maintained. The water constantly needed topping up or lowering, in winter any ice that formed had to be broken apart by the artillery. The Germans did not play a passive role and continued to shell the town and its water system. Damage to the sluice gates, canals and waterways had to be repaired — often under water and in freezing conditions.

The sluice gates at Nieuwpoort

Looking down on the Ganzepoot
On the right are the Noordvaart sluice gates and to its left, on the green the Yser Memorial

A new lift now takes visitors to the top of the Albert memorial from which excellent views can be had over the town, sluice gates and the Nieuport Memorial to the Missing.

Opening TimesOpeningsdagen
2nd January – 31st December 02 januari – 31 december
Tuesday to Sunday
10:00 to 17:00 hours
Dinsdag tot zondag
10u to 17u
ClosedGesloten
1st January and Mondays 01 januari en maandag
Entrance FeeTarief
€7 Adult €7 Volwassene
€5 Youth (7-25) €5 Jongeren (7-25)

Visiting the site will take between an hour and ninety minutes.

 

Other memorials nearby