Picture: centre of Den Hoorn with Saint-Ritachurch .
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Hollandline: bunkers in Damme
centre of Den Hoorn and border area between Lapscheure and the
When you think about the Great War (the First World War), you immediately think about the Ypres Salient, Diksmuide and the massive toll of lifes between 1914 and 1918. In Damme you can also find remainders of that era, however they are luckily much more modest than in the Ypres area. The traces can be mainly found in Lapscheure and Den Hoorn and that in the shape of warbunkers and pill-boxes.
The presence of these strongholds has everything to do with the political position of the Netherlands during WW I. In this conflict, the Netherlands declared itself neutral. Out of fear for an allied attack from the direction of the Netherlands, hitting them in the back during the fighting at the Ypres Salient and the Somme, the German occupator built a defensive line alongside the belgian-dutch frontier. This line was called the "Holland Stellung" or "Hollandlinie" and consisted of an electrical fence with watch posts every few hundred meter. Behind this, a network of bunkers was built. Mostly they were constructed in clusters of a few bunkers together: fortified living-quarters ("barracks"), a mess, communication facilities, flanked by pill-boxes. At some clusters there were also solid defensive bunkers for heavy artillery guns.
There never came an attack from the direction of Holland, so the bunkers never served another task than as barracks for the troops that had to guard the border during WW I. Ironically during WW II they were real life-savers. In the night of 13 to 14 September 1944, the area north of the Leopoldcanal and the Schipdonkcanal was heavily shelled by allied artillery as a preparation for the crossing of the canals (Operation Colorado; see also the battle for "Het Molentje"). Families, that didn't have a strong cellar to shelter for the bombs and grenades, found refuge in these bunkers. They litterally saved many lifes.
Several bunkers have been demolished but what is left is still worth the while. Most of the constructions are on private grounds, so you cannot access them without permission. Moreover, it can be quite dangerous to enter them (hidden drainage holes, debris,...). Most of the bunkers are alongside the border in Lapscheure, there are a few in the Preekboomstraat and some more in the centre of Den Hoorn.
With thanks to John and Lucien Maenhout and the owners..
© Hendrik De Leyn - www.damme-online.com