I'm Stijn (born in 1988). I live in the town of Langemark-Poelkapelle, in the heart of Flanders Fields (West Flanders, Belgium). For six years (secondary school), I undertook electrical courses at the technical school in Ypres and additionally a year of specialization at the technical school at Poperinge. From my childhood onwards I already was fascinated by light.I finished this education in June 2007. My hobbies are: collecting world war 1 relics, cooperating with the website 'Westhoek Verbeeldt', also other websites, and space travel(see website: Gravitation Sound).
From my childhood onwards I was fascinated by light. I finished this education in June 2007. My hobbies are: collecting world war 1 relics, cooperating with the website 'Westhoek Verbeeldt', also other websites, and space travel (see website: Gravitation Sound).
From my childhood onwards I grew up on a farm situated in the Ypres front area of World War 1, an area that had to endure a lot of battles. Our farm at that time was known as Pondfarm. As a result of this my first hobby came into being: collecting 'war relics'. From 2003 onwards I started my own collection made up by the war finds coming from our farmlands. Each and every item we found during the agricultural work, I put aside, dated them, photographed and inventarised them.
There's still and always a risk when digging up, finding or storing war ammunition because that ammunition, containing explosives or toxicol substances, now being over 90 years old, may have eroded. While harvesting we thus always have to be very allert and deal carefully with it.
From 2003 onwards I started my own collection made up of war finds from our own farmlands. Each and every item we found during agricultural work, I put aside, dated them, photographed and inventorised them.
There's still and always a risk when digging up, finding or storing war ammunition because that ammunition, containing explosives or toxic substances, now being over 90 years old, may have eroded. While harvesting we thus always have to be very alert and deal carefully with it.
Since 2003 we have also found coins dating back to 1853, beside British rifles, bayonets, shovels, lead bullets, buttons and different kinds of shells or grenades, i.e. Belgian, British, French and German ones.
Dangerous ammunition in this area, at our place and others, once a year is collected by a special unit of the Belgian army called DOVO (i.e. service for the removal and destruction of explosives of the Belgian Army).
The photo above shows me standing at the entrance shaft of the Vampire Dugout at Zonnebeke. This was an 11m. (12 yards) deep subterranean tunnel which was used as a headquarters in World War 1 by the British. Anyone who purchased the book ‘Beneath Flanders Fields, as I did, was permitted access to the tunnel. I very well remember the candles at the joists, the shovels on the wall and particularly the steady and quickly seeping water. More about the Vampire Dugout can be found here: www.polygonwood.com
At school I once had to produce a little study about the Great War. It was not at all difficult for me to make a specific choice on this subject: Pondfarm of course. Out of this school paper my first website grew. On that website all my war finds can be seen and it holds general information about the farm too.
In 2008 I went to London to undertake research in the National Archives and the archives at the Imperial War Museum. I was hoping to find (aerial) photos, trench maps, other documents and information about Pondfarm in the Great War period. I was lucky, at least, in finding a photo of the farm dating from 1914 .
It didn't take long for me to start another website too, this time about St. Julien and Poelkapelle (Poelcapelle) during the Great War.
In 2006 I had some important visitors at my doorstep: the people from the (internet) Forum on World War1(Forumeerstewereldoorlog). The farm yard was filled with about 20 cars from people from The Netherlands who came to have a look at our war finds and the bunker. In 2005 I started a topic on Pondfarm on this forum and I put all the photos of my finds on there. The visit was the result of this.
It happens that I don't know the exact nature of my war finds and that's why I always put the photos on the WW-1 forum in order to find out, via information from the forum, what it is and what the risks are.
My Pondfarm topic on the forum can be found here:
Ever since my participation on the forum, I regularly have visitors here who are interested in the World War history.
In August, photographer Marco Magielse from Breda (NL) popped in at the museum on our farm. His idea was to create with this book some overview of the scares of the Great War. Marco's book is called "Relic (searching for the Great War)". Together with Marco I visited a number of beautiful sites, and also with Bart & Heidi Verfaille of the B&B 'de Krulleute'. The book was published in 2012 and is available from Marco and myself. More information on: Click here.
A good friend of mine from St. Jan (St. Jean), Yvan Synnaeve, also known as Shrapnel Charlie created figurines of soldiers out of lead shrapnel bullets. He melted the lead, poured it in moulds, pasted things together and painted the figurines bringing them alive that way.
Through his figurines Yvan had a link with Pondfarm. He asked me to make 'slices' of bunker remains which he then used to fix his creations on.
Yvan died on 13 March 2012. We will remember him through his beautiful handmade lead figurines that are now to be found all over the world.
Rest in peace Yvan, thank you for everything ! You can find more about Yvan and his artefacts at this link:
In June 2012 we found, by accident, in the course of two weeks, two pieces of a World War 1 tank in the fields of the farm. They comprise a piece of caterpillar track and a piece of plate from the back of a tank. I asked Johan Vanbeselaere of the ‘Ypres Salient Tanks’ for some advice on this as I wanted to be sure if they were indeed pieces from a tank.
These finds increased my interest in this tank subject and so I joined Johan’s group which, in Poelkapelle, is reconstructing a replica WW1 tank. This year I also received a certificate from the ‘Ypres Salient Tanks’ group, something I'm grateful for. You can find more information about these tank finds and the ‘Ypres Salient Tanks’ here:
Our museum is located in a little old house on the farm. It is one of the houses that was built just after the war. At first the farmer lived there till about 1927, the year he moved to the newly built farm. The small houses were later used by farmworkers.
In the years after the war, those men, on Sundays when they had a day off, went searching in the fields to find and collect war material. By selling this, they often earned more than their monthly pay!
The construction and the design of the little house reflect the spirit of the early 20th century. It's austere and modest in size and furnishing. The wooden ceiling, doors and staircase, all have the scent of those bygone days.
Developing this aspect I decided to place the older objects that were stored on the attic, into what has become my museum: a typical old stove, chairs, horse collars, irons, wafer irons. The museum now contains war relics and antique objects. Still there was one problem. Since, at the time, the only source of light in the house was an oil lamp, it had no electricity supply. In October 2007 I started my job at a lighting company and that gave me the chance to purchase lightfittings that are now installed in the museum (www.supermodular.com) making it possible to visit the place in the evening now as well.
Through time my interest has expanded and, besides Pondfarm, it now extends to the complete history of St. Julien and Poelcapelle during the Great War period.
Harry Patch in Langemark (Sept. 27 2008)
(Henry John Patch or "Harry" Patch (°17 June 1898),
the last English WW-1 veteran, died on 25 July 2009, aged 111.)
You're welcome to visit these websites as well:
(English translation Frank Mahieu and Roger Joye)