The Twentieth Century Society

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War memorials

Belgium: Ijzertoren, Diksmuide

Architect: Han Groenwegen
Location: Diksmuide, Belgium

The principal landmark in Diksmuide is the tall Ijzertoren or Ysertower to the west of the town, which is both a war memorial and a symbol of Flemish nationalism – the focus of pilgrimages. The original Expressionist structure designed by Han Groenwegen was begun in 1928 and inaugurated in 1930 when the bodies of ‘Yzerheroes’ – some of the Flemish-speaking Belgians who died defending the little piece of Belgium that remained in 1914 – were buried in the crypt. The base bore the inscription No More War in four languages while the summit, in the form of a cross, bore the symbols or monograms of the Flemish Catholic Student Movement: A-V-V – All for Flanders – and V-V-K – Flanders for Christ. This provocative architectural statement was a response to the shabby treatment of Flemish-speaking soldiers during the war by the French-speaking officer class and government. Some 80% of the Belgian army were Flemings yet they were given orders in French and had French inscriptions on their gravestones (in 1925 headstones with the Flemish symbol designed by the half-Irish Flemish nationalist artist Joe English (1882-1918) were placed in war cemeteries were removed and destroyed by the military authorities). This caused intense resentment – creating a division between Flemings and Walloons .

This tower also created resentment among the French-speaking (possibly exacerbated by the sympathy of some right-wing Flemish nationalists for the Nazi European vision during the Second World War) and it was blown up by persons unknown in 1946. That was a self-defeating gesture, for an even bigger IJzertoren was then raised next to the ruins of the old one – which was made into a Gateway of Peace in 1950. The new tower – very similar to the old one and bearing the same legends – was built in 1952-65 and is 84 metres tall, containing 22 floors which serve as a museum. There is also a Chapel with stained glass made by Eugeen Yjoors after designs by Joe English (who was re-buried in the original crypt) as well as a large mural by Hendrik Luyten.

Gavin Stamp

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