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Webmatters : The Belgian Front Line, Yser 1914: Ramskapelle
Rough Map of Area

Battle of the Yser

Ramskapelle

Whilst the battles for Nieuwpoort and Diksmuide were taking place an equally important struggle took place in the small village of Ramskapelle, a few kilometres away from the coast and right on the railway embankment.

To simplify the identification of regiments I have kept the French titles in French (151e Régiment d’Infanterie — 151st Infantry Regiment) and used Dutch for the Belgians (14de Linieregiment — 14th Infantry Regiment).

The Belgian Army was very much Francophone during the war, certainly within its officer corps and a greater acceptance of Dutch/Flemish would only come after the Armistice.

Once the Germans had forced the IJzer at Tervate on the 22nd October 1914 the way seemed clear for them to brush the Belgian Army aside. Although the Belgians had been reinforced by the arrival of the French 42e Division d’Infanterie under General Grossetti, there were grave fears that the Belgian soldiers, near to the end of their capacity to resist, would not stand further punishment.

The Belgians had been fighting in retreat since the beginning of the war without seeing any real success to bolster their flagging morale. Worse, there did not seem to be any positive end in sight.

Ramskapelle Militair Kerkhof

The Belgian Military Cemetery at Ramskapelle

On the 15th October King Albert issued a proclamation asking his weary men to fight to the end.

Soldats,
Voilà deux mois et davantage que vous combattez pour la plus juste des causes, pour vos foyers, pour l’indépendance nationale. Vous avez contenu les armées ennemies, subi trois sièges, effectué plusieurs sorties, opéré sans pertes une longue retraite par un couloir étroit. Jusqu’ici vous étiez isolés dans cette lutte immense. Vous vous trouvez maintenant aux côtés des vaillantes armées françaises et anglaises. Il vous appartient, par la ténacité et la bravoure dont vous avez donné tant de preuves, de soutenir la réputation de nos armes. Notre honneur national y est engagé. Soldats. Envisagez l’avenir avec confiance, luttez avec courage. Que, dans les positions où je vous placerai, vos regards se portent uniquement en avant et considérez comme traître à la patrie celui qui prononcera le mot de retraite sans que l’ordre formel en soit donné. Le moment est venu, avec l’aide de nos puissants alliés, de chasser du sol de notre chère patrie l’ennemi qui l’a envahie au mépris de ses engagements et des droits sacrés d’un peuple libre.

Soldiers
For more than two months you have been fighting for the most just of causes, for your homes, for national independence. You have held back the enemy’s armies; suffered three sieges; made several raids; conducted, without losses, a long retreat through a narrow corridor. Up until now you were isolated in this immense struggle. You now find yourselves alongside valiant French and English armies. It is up to you, by the tenacity and bravery which you have so often demonstrated, to uphold the reputation of our army. Our national honour is at stake. Soldiers. Consider the future with confidence, fight with courage. In the positions where I place you, look only to the front and consider traitor anyone that uses the word retirement without a formal order being given. The time has come, with the help of our powerful allies, to rid our beloved country of an enemy that invaded in violation of its [international] engagements and the sacred rights of a free people.

An initial inundation in the immediate area of Nieuwpoort had helped slow the Germans and on the 25th October the King gave his consent to a project to flood the entire area between the IJzer and the Diksmuide railway line, behind which the Belgians were now gathered.

Hope had returned to the Belgian Army, French reinforcements were arriving, Diksmuide (held by Belgians and French Marines) had so far re-buffed all German attempts to take it, and if the polders were flooded the coast would be saved.

The old sluice gates

The sluice gates at Nieuwpoort

But, it would take time for the effects of the opened sluice gates at Nieuwpoort to become apparent. If the Germans pierced the line; all would be lost.

On the 30th October the Germans launched a heavy assault against the line between Nieuwpoort and Diksmuide. It would appear that they had not fully appreciated that the fields were so wet because they were being flooded. The Belgian artillery had been shelling the banks of the IJzer which had caused some flooding and the rest was put down to the weather.

At Pervijze the 13de Linieregiment and French 8e BCP (Bataillon de Chasseurs à Pied — Light Infantry) not only beat off the German assault on the railway crossing but took two hundred prisoners whilst doing so.

The old railway station at Ramskapelle

The old railway station (complete with buffers) at Ramskapelle
On the left you can see the observation tower

The critical point of the Battle of the Yser had been reached. By 0500 hours the Germans had managed to force their way through as far as the railway station at Ramskapelle. From here they were able to enfilade the Franco-Belgian defenders with machine-gun fire and a battle for the village began.

Near the church men from the 5de and 6de Linieregiment plus Frenchmen from the 151e RI (Régiment d’Infanterie) held as best as they could but the Germans captured a windmill on the outskirts of the village and from here machine-gun fire played havoc amongst the Allied positions.

To the south-west of the windmill Lt Colonel Claudon of the 16e BCP (who was also commanding the 84e Brigade) at Jokveld Farm was ordered to retake the mill by all means necessary and secure the village.

The problem being the Koolhofvaart Canal which protected the mill from the western approaches. By nightfall the Chasseurs had made some progress in the teeth of a hail of bullets and shells but they were unable to retake the mill.

Knowing that the entire battle hinged on the recapture of Ramskapelle, Claudon ordered his men to assault the mill at bayonet point during the night. With remarkable élan the Chasseurs and supporting French and Belgians stormed the German positions forcing them out of the mill and back into the village.

There is a Windmill monument to the 16e BCP near the centre of the village.

Monument to the 14de Linie Regiment at Ramskapelle

The monument to the 14de Linieregiment in the main street

Near the railway station the 14de Linieregiment were engaged in an equally vicious fight to force the Germans back over the railway line.

With the north sea arriving like slow motion cavalry the Belgians summoned every piece of artillery they could lay their hands on and with the aid of the French charged the Germans at bayonet point. The Germans were pushed back out of the village into the deepening water. The centime finally dropped and the Germans retreated back behind the IJzer.

The Battle of the Yser had been won but the flip-side of the coin was that from here on in, the Germans could turn all of their attention on Ieper and the weak point at Diksmuide.

The old railway line which formed the Belgian front line after the inundation is now a cycle track.

Looking along the Frontzaat cycle route

The Frontzate Cycle Track

Happier times !

The station was later fortified and used by the Belgian artillery as an observation point.

A commemorative plaque at the railway station

The plaque on the station to the 14de Regiment

 


There is a Belgian Military Cemetery on the northern side of the village and further up the road the CWGC Ramscappelle Road Cemetery (Note the spelling) created in 1917.