Another First World War centenary: in October 1914, the Belgian Army, squeezed into the final corner of the country between the North Sea and France, floods the fields of Flanders and holds off the German army for the rest of World War I.
This feat of military hydrology was the main focus of a conference at IRSD - the Belgian Royal Higher Institute for Defence. A gathering of experts - Belgian and Dutch, military and scientific - to mark this modern example of the use of water as a weapon in the Low Countries. There's a useful slideshow here Download 01 03 ph mignolet.
This is an old, old story: French monarch Louis XIV, forced to abandon a siege of the Belgian town of Dendermonde (Termonde), cursed the town ("ville maudite"), saying he could only take it "with an army of ducks."
Medieval castles had moats, but as late as the Cold War, Dutch defenses included, as part of NATO, high-tech hydrological traps for any eventual Soviet invaders.
Flooding, as we know, can be deadly, and the collective memory in the Netherlands (and to a lesser extent in Belgium) hasn't forgotten the catastrophic breaching of the dikes in 1953. As the world faces coastal flooding brought on by rising sea levels, this Low Country expertise will be of increasing importance beyond the land of the polders.
In October 1914, the German generals were no doubt cursing the collection of Belgian officers and canal wardens who improvised this defense that allowed King Albert - ever since revered here as the sovereign who stayed at the head of his troops during the entire war - to maintain a piece of Belgian territory free of German occupation.
The peaceful waters today at Nieuwpoort Belgium, flooded in October 1914
Last weekend we made a pilgrimage to the sites associated with the flooding that saved a piece of Belgium - Nieuwpoort and Diksmude. The latter town boasts a towering monument to the sacrifice of Belgian soldiers, especially the Flemish (Dutch-speaking) dead of WW I, which has been associated with controversial Flemish nationalist sentiment.
No such sectartian feelings were evident at the Royal Higher Institute for Defence Studies, where French, Dutch, and English were used and the Belgian speakers were scrupulous in their bilingualism. It looks like the Belgian army has set itself to be an example in that sphere to the rest of the country.