Trenches and Dugouts at Passchendaele

The Passchendaele 1917 Museum was not one I had researched or planned to visit during this trip. Not sure what there was to see and do, but having spotted leaflets just about everywhere we went in Flanders I thought we might as well goย since we were in the area.

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The little village of Zonnebeke is only five miles north-east of Ypres, a tiny place and we parked on the main (only) street and headed in through the museum gates. A gorgeous setting, there was a lovely park and gardens beside a lake. Later we discovered the museum is housed in what was once a castle. After it was bombed in World War 1 they built a chalet style mansion house instead – not your typical museum for sure. A playground and plenty of space to run around and let off steam before the serious stuff indoors worked well for Son.

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The museum focuses mainly on the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917. Entrance was remarkably cheap, I thought it would be a small place and we’d spend an hour or so inside. Wrong on all counts – it was huge, extensive and we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring. Split into several different sections, the first part was just like a traditional museum. Full of artefacts and exhibits in glass cases explaining the background to the battle and other aspects of the war. Husband and I found it all compelling, Son not so much. We were rushed through more than a bit by him, he found it a little dry and had no concentration or desire to read all the heavy stuff. There were a few hands on items which he enjoyed, but eager to move through quickly, we had no choice but to follow.

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A fascinating area lay just ahead – an impressive reconstruction of the dugouts. We went down a whole series of steps and ended up twenty feet under the ground. An extensive warren of corridors to explore, lots of rooms, nooks and crannies to look in and touching was not off limits. This definitely appealed to Son – well all of us actually. We checked out the first aid room, Son tried out a very uncomfortable soldier’s bed and was more than a bit interested in those communal toilets. Dark and gloomy with sounds and smells of the time made for a very effective and memorable experience.

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We emerged above ground and found a more modern area with exhibits on the Commonwealth battalions and soldiers. They had weapons displays and an absorbing film in a little cinema all about the Battle of Passchendaele.

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The highlight was yet to come. Having been in the real trenches that morning, we were all fascinated to be able to explore an extensive replica trench here. They have a reworking of the British and German trenches using the same materials and same methods of construction as those in 1914-1918. Intriguing to see how the trenches would have looked and plenty of information to read and take in throughout this little tour.

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The last and final part of the museum was more reflective. Assorted artefacts and artwork on display and a real focus on the futility of war. Absorbing and a fitting end to what turned out to be the most incredible museum. If you are ever in this area, don’t miss this place.

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30 thoughts on “Trenches and Dugouts at Passchendaele

  1. What an incredible find! This is the reason why my mum is addicted to picking up leaflets! I was intrigued to see the woven wooden walls in one of the reconstructed trenches too, just behind Son in the photo of him with the periscope. It’s such an ancient building technique, it was weird to see it in a 20th century trench! Did the exhibition mention this at all?

    • It was outstanding, the different displays and combination of hands-on and other experiences made it really great for adults and children alike. Looking forward to reading about those exhibitions in Wellington!

  2. What a great find! There’s nothing better when you think you’ve stumbled across something small and it turns out to be a gem. That must have been really interesting going into the dugouts and the trench. Gives you a real sense of what it must have been like for the soldiers

    • We were so glad we did stumble upon this museum, such a great surprise. The combination of traditional style museum with these replica things was just spot on – such a great day out and such a great way of learning about how awful those times were.

  3. Don’t you just love that about travel, those surprise finds that turn out to be treasures? It’s often the unplanned stuff that ends up being the highlight of our trips.

    This museum looks fantastic, thoroughly absorbing. I think my kids would be like your son and race through the artifacts to get to the interactive element. I’m sure kids gain a lot of understanding from placing themselves in that similar situation and that it sparks their imaginations and empathy.

    • This was just one of those gems Laura, in my meticulous pre-trip planning it didn’t even feature, we went with no expectations and were completely blown away. I loved every bit of the whole place, we were slightly irritated with our son and his rush to get through the first part, however the dugouts and trenches were incredible and he got so much out of that part – hopefully something he never forgets!

      • My kids are pesky like that too. I also often think my 9 year old is not engaging at all but turn months later he spews out all this information that shows he was paying attention. So why the stinky attitude at the time? Aggravating. That’s why it’s great when museums or other places strike the right balance between adult pitched information and interactive engagement for kids.

        I’m an over-planner. I create colour coded spreadsheets and sometimes colour coded maps for our trips. I have must do items and then other tiers of things we might do – bad weather items and “if we have time” items. Yet often it’s the things in the “if desperate” colour or the things that weren’t on the list at all that turn out to be the most memorable.

  4. What an awesome surprise! There are so many things that we weren’t taught in history class in the States. World War I was just a blip in them. Your posts lately have made me want to start studying what happened more. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Terrific…I love that so many of the World War 1 sites have been preserved. That war sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. I’d love to visit some if these sites one day.

    • There are so many incredible museums, sights and places to see in this little area, we found it all completely fascinating. This might have been my favourite museum – although that’s a hard one to call George!!

  6. The looks like it turned out to be a really interesting museum for your son, with the underground part and trenches. Museums can be tough with kids, but when there’s something there that can draw them in, especially when unexpected, that’s the best. Glad it all worked out!

    • My heart sank at the beginning, I thought it was going to be one of those rush through and out as quickly as possible places thanks to his lack of interest. However the dugouts and trenches completely won him over – we found them incredible too, it ended up one of our highlights!

  7. It’s great that they keep this place a testament to the fact that war is a horrid affair – especially if you have to dig into the earth like an animal to survive it.
    Great post! Keep ’em coming ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. What a wonderful find Joy! So much thought and care looks to have gone into the presentation here and clearly they are trying to convey to a modern audience the horrors and futility of war, which is so important! I always found an interactive exhibit grabbed our girls’ attention way more than the more formal exhibitions although like you I was often left frustrated at having to run through museums to get to the end as quickly as possible! If I ever get to this area I’ll make a point of visiting. Hope you’ve had a good week and have a lovely weekend too ๐Ÿ™‚

    • It is a wonderful place Rosemary, one of the best of these kind of museums I’ve ever seen. The mix of normal exhibits, film and then these incredible reconstructions make it appeal to everyone for sure. Just need to work on our son to have a bit more patience sometime…. not an easy job!! Can’t believe the weekend has come round again already, time flies…. hope yours is fun filled too Rosemary.

      • Good luck with that Joy – I remember the eye rolling when the girls didn’t want to do something such as going round a museum with us!! Time certainly flies – the shops are starting to put up their Christmas decorations already – rather an alarming prospect in September! It’s going to be a busy weekend – it’s Aussie Rules Football finals time and both Monsieur LC’s teams are doing well. I go along to the West Coast Eagles games (one of the Perth sides) so that is taking up most of tomorrow. If they win he’s off to the Grand Final in Melbourne though I’ll stay here in Perth (I’m not fussed!) ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. We won Joy – very exciting! It was an amazing atmosphere on Saturday at Subiaco Oval (West Coast Eagles home ground) – I got so carried away I had a husky voice by yesterday! We have been very fortunate and gone to the Grand Final in Melbourne a couple of times as a family but that’s not practical this time (one daughter here in Perth married with 2 daughters of her own now and the other in London!) so Monsieur will go on a boys’ trip and I’m watching on tv with girlfriends here (we have a nice luncheon planned with champagne on ice if we win!). Not sure if you get the AFL Grand Final on tv in the UK but it’s a great spectacle even if you have no interest in the footy. Our younger daughter is going to a function at one of the London pubs where they screen the game but you have to get a paid ticket to get in. So very exciting week ahead – just hope WC Eagles can win the flag! Hope you have a great week too! ๐Ÿ™‚

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