The Trench of Death and its myths

The Trench of Death and its myths

 

It is generally accepted that the Trench of Death was safeguarded after the war because it was the most dangerous location at the Belgian front. Every day, tens of Belgians lost their lives in this exact spot. The Military Museum would like to take the edge off these two myths.

If the Trench of Death still exists today, this has more to do with luck than with deliberate intent. After the war the Ministry of Defence decides to maintain 25 war sites. The Trench of Death is one of them. However, even before the tourist brochures are printed some sites are already destroyed by overzealous farmers or builders. By 1927 the Trench is in danger of destruction as well, but the Royal Touring Club of Belgium decides otherwise. The association calls on its members to safeguard the Trench of Death through donations. 100,000 Belgian franks are raised and the sum is used to deviate the road planned to come through the Trench of Death along the River Yser. The Trench of Death is saved. Over the years the other war sites make room for harbour extensions or industrial zones. Because of its unique location, between the newly laid road and the Yser dyke, in a rural area, the Trench is preserved. Today it is the only remaining Belgian war site in the Westhoek.

Another tenacious story has it that this one trench claimed tens of deaths every single day of the war, which would account for its name. The Trench of Death, the inescapable death-trap. The myth of thousands of Belgian casualties in the trench still stands today. Until now. During their research, Royal Military Museum historians re-examined sources and archives. Each day of the war was reviewed in order to trace the Trench’s history. This research revealed some surprising elements. Historians were able to draw up a list of casualties. They counted not thousands of victims, but a “mere” 250. The personal files of these casualties can be checked at the interpretation centre through a simple application. The Trench dead now have both a name and a face.

New research also clarified what happened at the Trench. A list with daily events was drawn up. Over 1,070 incidents are recorded in the interpretation centre application The Trench of Death day by day.