In the last decade there has been a large increase in visitors to the Ypres Salient, and many have included a visit to the trenches at Sanctuary Wood, a few kilometres outside Ieper.
In the 1990s the trenches were covered in grass and the whole site was overgrown with undergrowth. Nowadays the ground around the trench line has been visited by so many pairs of feet that it is mostly bald with no grass or undergrowth.
The need for the preservation of battlefield areas makes for an interesting discussion. The natural desire to be allowed to walk freely amongst historical remains such as these trenches is one side of the argument, the possibility that they will be damaged in so doing is another.
It’s been a topic of discussion for some years already by battlefield historians, local authorities and the people who live with the scarred landscape all around them.
Sanctuary Wood is a fascinating example of how such war remains bring together the local people who own the ground and live with them daily, the people who come in their thousands each year to see them, historians who debate whether these trench remains are original or not, and the people who want to find ways to preserve endangered WW1 battlefield remains.
The museum was developed by Jacques Schier, the grandson of the farmer who founded the museum and owned the site of the museum since before World War I. It has a unique collection of World War I items, including a rare collection of three-dimensional photographs, weapons, uniforms, decommissioned bombs and shells.
On entering the museum through the café visitors will be in a room with display cases on tables in the centre of the room. Many interesting photographs are arranged on the walls. In this room you will find a large and rare collection of three dimensional photo images inside special viewing boxes. These 3D photographs were produced after the war and are absorbing and absolutely fascinating to look through.
The museum collection contains equipment removed from the battlefield in the vicinity of Sanctuary Wood. There are several German grave markers reclaimed from the battlefields. These were removed from their original burial location after the burials were presumably moved from outlying battlefield burial plots into a formal German military cemetery during the battlefield clearance after 1918.
Among the battlefield relics is a rare example of a British Army Cook’s Wagon. This was given a treatment of wood preserver in the 1980s by volunteers from the British Army’s Royal Corps of Transport serving near Antwerp.
In what was once a house, several rooms are dedicated to various displays of wartime memorabilia. They include some fascinating posters and pictures, including several showing the devastation of Ieper (Ypres) by the Germans during World War One.