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WW I > HISTORY

The First World War was a global war fought mainly in Europe from 1914 to 1918. The scale and the intensity of the conflict was unprecedented. About 70 million soldiers took part in the battle and more than 9 million militaries and civilians died during the horrible war.
The “Westhoek”, the western part of the Province of West-Flanders was the scene of battle during the Great War.

After the often pointless battles and immense destructions, the Westhoek rose from its ashes. Today the Westhoek wants to spread a message of peace all over the world, with the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres, the Ysertower in Diksmuide, the numerous military cemeteries, the war memorials and other war heritage.

Everything started on June 28, 1914, when Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were murdered by a Bosnian Serb student. The assassination set into motion a series of fast-moving events that finally escalated into a war.
The war was between the Central Powers (Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria) under leadership of the German empire and the Allies (France, the United Kingdom, Belgium and Russia; later joined by Italy (1915) and the United States of America (1917)).

The war developed into a world war because the colonies in Africa and Asia were also attacked. Later followed the Ottoman empire the German example and joined the Centrals what made the arising of war in Arabia.
By the end of 1918 thirty-three countries were formally at war with each other, with a total population of 1.5 billion people. This represented 80% of the total world population at that time. Just 12 countries remained neutral, including the Netherlands.

On 4 August 1914, the German army invaded Belgium. They demanded King Albert to grant them free passage through the country, so that they could attack the French from the rear and defeat them first. Afterwards, they would turn their attention on Russia. The king refused and the famous Schlieffen plan was launched to impose Germany’s military will by force.
The city of Liege fell quickly into German hands. The British, who had guaranteed the neutrality of Belgium, quickly came to the aid of their smaller continental neighbour.

The German advance was now moving more slowly than they had hoped and they became increasingly nervous. They hadn’t expected such a strong Belgian resistance.
In Louvain 2,000 houses were burnt to the ground, together with its fabulous university library. Its unique collection of incunabula, manuscripts and ancient books was lost forever. From that moment on, the Germans were seen by the Allies as barbarians.
After the fall of Antwerp in October 1914, the Yzer and the canal to Ypres formed the last natural barrier against the invaders. King Albert asked his soldiers to make a final stand, in a desperate effort to keep this last small piece of Belgian territory from falling into German hands.

The Germans reached the Yzer on October 18, 1914 and immediately a heavy fight broke out. Belgian and French troops defended Diksmuide with great determination. Continuous bombardments quickly reduced the town to rubble. It was finally captured by the Germans on November 10, 1914. But the Allied had achieved their goal: the German advance had been halted and the Schlieffen Plan had failed.

The poppies survived the violence and now they are the silent evidences of the cruel war. The landscape in the Westhoek bears the story of the war. The many military cemeteries and memorials show that the memory of this war is by no means starting to fade. On the contrary, the impact of the First World War stays visible in the Westhoek.