The Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 and the municipality of Zonnebeke drained the 'Zonnebeke Church Dugout' on September 26th. The draining is part of large-scale scientific research on the possibility to temporarily open this unique underground site for the general public in 2017. The research was done in collaboration with the Flemish Government, the Flanders Heritage Agency and Archeo7. Because of his expertise in the field of underground structures, also amateur archaeologist Johan Vandewalle took part in this research. On October 1st, Minister-President of Flanders Geert Bourgeois and the 1,000,000th visitor got a guided tour of this authentic dugout.
A rare but extremely well preserved dugout
The investigation into the opening of the dugout is part of the vision of the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 as an open museum to establish a link between historical facts and the architectural heritage as a military-strategic witness of the First World War. The underground complex is one of the best preserved dugouts in the region because the Allies built the dugout beneath the foundations of the pre-war church. The structure lies about 5 meters underground and consists of a main gallery of nearly 29 meters long, side corridors, five rooms and two access stairs.
In addition to investigating the possible opening, the dugout was also inventoried in 3D. Also research into the origin of the wood used was done.
1,000,000th visitor gets unique gift
On October 1st, the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 welcomed its 1,000,000th visitor. In addition to a certificate and gift basket, Adrienne Smith from Waimakariri, New Zealand was offered a special experience. Together with Minister-President of Flanders Geert Bourgeois, she was given a tour by the museum curator in the dugout.
Once in a lifetime experience
Further research must now determine whether the museum can also offer the general public this unique experience between July 31st and November 11th, 2017. During this period, the museum expects a lot of (inter)national visitors on the occasion of "100 years Battle of Passchendaele”. After that period the dugout would again be closed.
"The temporary opening of the dugout would fit perfectly within our mission to focus on the experience of the visitor. By visiting this unique dugout our visitors could experience how, a century ago, the soldiers lived like moles underground "said Steven Vandenbussche, Director of the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917.
“The 1917 Battle of Passchendaele was one of the most cruel episodes of the Great War. In only one hundred days, half a million victims were sacrificed for scarcely 8 kilometres of ground. It is therefore no surprise that, next year, Flanders’ centenary commemoration will focus on this historic event. We expect many tourists from the Commonwealth countries in this commemorative year, since the impact of the Battle of Passchendaele is still felt by our generation. The research into how the Zonnebeke Church Dugout can be opened up to the public is a fitting complement to the umbrella project “The Legacy of Passchendaele”, which revolves around experience, while focussing on landscape, archaeological relics as well as above ground sites. The dugout is indeed rare and one of the region’s best preserved dugouts with plenty of authentic features and artefacts” said Geert Bourgeois, Minister-President of the Government of Flanders.