Q What did the First World War trenches look like at the Belgian coast and the Swiss border? Were there massive fortifications or did the trenches simply stop?
A At the neutral Swiss border,
the line of trenches began (or ended) in the foothills of the Juras near the village of Pfetterhouse, just north of the Largin, a tiny piece of Swiss territory protruding into German-held Alsace.
The southernmost German position was a square pillbox virtually on the Swiss border. Slightly further north was the first French blockhouse – a concrete machine-gun post known as the Villa Agathe.
The most notable fortification in the area was in fact Swiss, a substantial wood and earth bunker used to monitor the opposing armies. A large Swiss flag fluttered above it to ensure it wasn’t fired on accidentally. This became a quiet sector once the front stabilised in late 1914 but there were outbreaks of heavy fighting a little to the north in the Vosges.
Some 450 miles north, the trenches petered out in the sand dunes near the coastal town of Nieuport. Both sides constructed blockhouses in the area and the Germans set up batteries along the coast to deter the Royal Navy. The most noticeable defences in the area, though, were liquid ones.
In 1914, the Belgians stalled the German advance by opening the sluice gates to the network of canals that crisscrossed the low-lying land around the river Yser, flooding large areas with seawater.
Soldiers warm themselves by a brazier in Nieuport, Belgium in 1915. Belgian trenches ended in the sand dunes of this coastal town