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?

BBC History Magazine - - Miscellany - Gor­don Wil­son, by email Ju­lian Humphrys is de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cer for the Bat­tle­fields Trust

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

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