Ieper/Ijzer 1914

04-10-2014 - 04-01-2015

The Battle of the IJzer and the First Battle of Ieper / Antony d’Ypres

4 October 2014 – 4 January 2015, IFFM, Cloth Hall, Royal Chamber

After two and a half months of waiting, the First World War finally arrives in the Westhoek. Within a matter of days, the fighting breaks out along the River Ijzer and to the east of Ieper. From a strategic point of view, the Battle of the IJzer and the First Battle of Ieper are the most important of all the battles fought on Belgian territory. This last phase in the war of movement will determine the trench lines of the Western Front for the remainder of the conflict. The successful resistance put up by the Belgian, French and British armies stops the German advance once and for all. This means that a last small corner of the Kingdom of Belgium is spared from conquest - too small to organize any normal form of public life, but large enough to stay in the war and exert international influence. It also means that the Belgian Army, protected by the flooding of the IJzer plain, has the chance to recover and reorganize, so that it can carry on its stubborn defence. Both the German attackers and the Allied defenders suffer huge losses. In the Allied camp, the heaviest losses are not suffered by the Belgians or the British, but by the French - a fact that is now almost completely overlooked in the history of the war. By the end of the First Battle of Ieper, the British Expeditionary Force has been as good as destroyed. By Christmas 1914, the British have just 30,000 troops left in the field, all that now remains from the professional army of 100,000 men that started the war. The rest are either dead or wounded. As a result, Ieper - or 'Ypres' - the place where the B.E.F. fought its last battle, becomes a symbol of terrible loss and bitter resistance. And so it will remain throughout the war.

This loss and resistance are powerful expressed in the destruction of the city of Ieper. The Ieper photographers, Maurice and Robert Antony, who had carefully photographed every aspect of the old medieval city before the war, now record the annihilation of its greatest buildings. The photographs of the burning Cloth Hall, taken on 22 November 1914, are amongst the most iconic images of the First World War.  After this, the brothers  systematically return to the locations they had visited before, using the same camera positions to create - for the very first time - an almost endless series of 'Then and Now' photos: the magnificence of the old historic city contrasted with the ruin and desolation of war.  This is a method of representing the First World War that is still used today. In Antony d’Ypres, the second part of this historical exhibition, a number of these unforgettable images will be on show, some of them - also for the very first time - in a fascinating 3D-display.