Photo of the day: The polders flooded

2014 marks the centenary of the beginning of the First World War. We will bring you pictures from 100 years ago on a regular basis - photos that were taken 100 years ago to the day on that particular day - to allow you to follow the Great War in pictures.

31 October 1914

The deliberate flooding of the polders between the River IJser and the Nieuwpoort to Diksmuide motorway came as a surprise to German Army. At first the Germans didn’t realise that the Belgian Army was responsible for the flooding, believing instead that it had been caused by heavy rain.

30 October 1914

In occupied Belgium, it quickly became clear that the German army was suffering large losses in the Westhoek. Wounded soldiers were arriving everywhere. In this case they flocked to the station of Bruges, which had been transformed into a hospital.

29 October 1914

The Belgian troops fire shots at the approaching enemy. According to the Dutch illustrated magazine ‘Wereldkroniek’, this picture was taken from behind a shed and is paired with the following comment: ‘It gives us the impression of something superhuman, the silence while doing their duty, when bullets are flying over their heads and their peers fall down in droves... The undistinguishable troops, the heroes we can count en masse… It’s a terrible thought, that war seems to be needed to show these elevated feelings… If what’s being wasted in human skills and abilities would be used in society, we would live in a better world!”

©2014 brilk

28 October 1914

The sculpture collection housed in the destroyed church of Ramskapelle, near Nieuwpoort, depicts the funeral of Christ. The sculptures were photographed many times during the war to show how ‘barbaric’ the Germans were. They were however, just the inevitable victims of combat during the Great War.

27 October 1914

British volunteers next to their ambulance car 100 years ago. The picture was probably taken in Pervijze, just behind the frontline at the river IJzer, in West-Flanders. Belgian troops were heavily hit in combat. Wounded soldiers came in in big numbers and were taken care of by British doctors and, especially, nurses. The British army and the British Red Cross were opposed to the idea of women going to the frontline until 1915. Female volunteers solved this problem by joining the workforce of foreign troops.

26 October 1914

Today’s photograph features French Navy fusiliers enjoying a meal break. The fusiliers , most of whom came from Brittany, played a leading role in the defence of the West Flemish town of Diksmuide.

25 October 1914

From the end of October 1914 refugees started to return to Antwerp from the Netherland. Just after the city fell to the Germans the city authorities called for refugees to return. Bakers, butchers and grocers were obliged to return within 12 day or face measures being taken against their businesses. The Dutch authorities also encouraged Belgian refugees to return home.


24 October 1914

German troops succeed in crossing the River IJzer at several locations, but suffer heavy losses to allied artillery. This illustration comes from the French magazine ‘Pays de France’.

23 October 1914

King Albert I visits the troops on the front in the West Flemish village of Pervijze. There are many witness accounts of how the King suddenly turned up at the front to visit Belgian troops. This doubtlessly served to boast the popularity of the third King of the Belgians.

22 October 1914

A German officer, who is held as a prisoner of war, pays homage to the flag of a Belgian regiment as a sign of respect. In all armies a regiment's flag or standard was a symbol of great importance. Everything had to be done to ensure that it did not fall into the enemy's hands. Captured flags were taken along in triumphant parades.

20 October 1914

Belgian and French soldiers shelter behind a freight train carrying coal at Nieuwpoort station in West Flanders.

19 October 1914

The people of Roeselare, Esen, Beert, Ledegem and Staden were the last in a long list to suffer atrocities at the hands of the Kaiser’s forces. Between 19 and 21 October more than 160 civilians were killed by German forces. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people had left their homes to escape the violence.

16 October 1914

South American horses are debarked in the harbour of the French city of Bordeaux. During the remainder of the war, tens of thousands of horses are imported from North and South America.

15 October 1914

Houses destroyed by German bombing on the Schoenmarkt in Antwerp. More than a decade after the Great War, one of Antwerp’s best-known buildings, the “Borerentoren” was built here.

14 October 1914

Belgians refugees gather on a dock in the Dutch city of Rotterdam. The destiny of the Belgians incited a lot of solidarity among the Dutch. Apart from refuge in temporary encampments, many Belgians found shelter in the homes of Dutch families. In Amsterdam, some 20,000 Belgians were offered a roof above their head.

13 October 1914

Refugees seek temporary shelter in beach huts in Ostend. Those unable to reach the Netherlands, try to escape to England or France. (Defence archive)

12 October 1914

The facade of the Ghent city hall shows a big German flag. German troops take the city on 12 October without much resistance. The Belgian army had the idea to blow up some bridges in the Ghent area to stop the advance of the German army, but this was plan was abandoned as it was considered too dangerous, due to the presence of many citizens on the move.

11 October 1914

French marines show off German helmets in the Ghent area. This French division, the so-called fuseliers-marins, will play an important role at the River IJzer. French and British soldiers had helped the Belgian troops in an attempt to stop the German advance south-east of Ghent, and to cover retreating Belgian soldiers. The town of Melle is the scene of some heavy fighting for the second time in a couple of weeks. The French, British and Belgians will eventually retreat on 11 October, heading for West-Flanders.

©2014 brilk

10 October 1914

Belgian soldiers retreating to the coast cross paths in Maldegem. A fraction of the troupes were allowed to travel by train, but most of them were forced to march for a couple of days. (KLM Collection)

09 October 1914

When the Germans approached Lokeren, the inhabitans fled the city.

08 October 1914

Since midnight, Antwerp is being bombed. (German postcard)

07 October 1914

London double-decker buses and British soldiers in Oude God, Mortsel (KLM Collection)

06 October 1914

In Schoonaarde, near Dendermonde, the Belgian army valiantly tries to prevent the Germans from crossing de Schelde. The Belgian artillery set fire to a tar factory where German soldiers were hiding. The column of smoke could be seen from miles away. (Defense Archive)

03 October 1914

Injured Belgian soldiers in the rail station of Ostend, ready to be brought to France or the United Kingdom. When it became clear that Anwerp would fall, the Belgian army started transporting non-essential materials from Antwerp to Ostend. Around 20,000 injured were removed from the scene as well. The operation was nothing short of gigantic, but remarkably remained unnoticed by the Germans. (Defence archive)

02 October 1914

A German postcard illustrating the devastating impact of the 42 cm “Big Bertha” grenades in Antwerp. This kind of image was distributed very early on. However, actual photos of the super mortar only appeared much later. (P. Brion Collection)

01 October 1914

During the siege of Antwerp, the military made use of armoured trains equipped with cannons. Thanks to the vast Belgian railroad network, these trains could be used efficiently on different locations.

©2014 brilk