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8,400 lights on Western Front dazzle the world

11:56 20/10/2014

Ten thousand volunteers carried lit torches over a distance of 84 kilometres on Friday, marking what once was a frontier of destruction. International headlines over the weekend were filled with praise and admiration for what is so far the most impressive of Belgium’s commemorations of the First World War.

The Lichtfront, or Light Front, was a spectacle of fire and light staged for an international audience, including delegations from the parliaments of the UK and Ireland.

The Light Front stretched, just like the Western Front of 1914-18, from Nieuwpoort on the coast to Ploegsteert Wood, the scene of fierce fighting on the Ypres Salient in 1914-15. The area, separate from the municipality of Ploegsteert, which is in Hainaut province, is the scene of a Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery.

The 10,000 volunteers carrying torches to illuminate the line were joined by thousands of spectators, despite an appeal for people to watch the proceedings on TV or on one of the giant screens installed in 10 local municipalities.

In towns in the vicinity of the Light Front, street lighting was turned off and residents were asked to turn off all their lights so the Light Front would stand out.

“I was moved,” commented West Flanders provincial deputy Guido Decorte, who was responsible for much of the organisation. “I never expected we would mobilise so many people. It was a success from beginning to end, from Nieuwpoort to Ploegsteert. That’s fantastic for the province. We wanted to involve a lot of people, and we made a lot of people happy. That’s very gratifying.”

The event also marked a rare public appearance by Princess Elisabeth, the 12-year-old heir to the throne. Though neither the king nor queen spoke, Elisabeth gave a speech she had written herself in the three national languages. “We shall never forget those who fell here,” she said. “Even today, war is destroying lives. Fathers, mothers and children are suffering or are separated from each other. But in their sorrow, they also offer us a lesson in courage and dignity. Their gaze challenges us to work for a world of justice and peace. It is now up to us, the young people, to hold high the torch and form a light front such as we have seen today.”

In related news, a new First World War visitors’ centre at the Western extreme of the front, Nieuwpoort, opened its doors at the weekend. Westfront Nieuwpoort, installed under the massive monument to Albert I, tells the war story of the coastal town, close to where the Ganzenpoot lock complex played such a crucial role in flooding the Germans out of their position in 1914, ensuring the safety of Nieuwpoort and establishing the front line there until the final battles of 1918.

The new centre took 10 months to complete, at a cost of €6 million, financed by West Flanders province and the government of Flanders. The complex was officially opened to the public at the weekend by Flemish minister-president and West Flanders native Geert Bourgeois.


photo by Sivan Askayo/Visit Flanders


Written by Alan Hope