The re-opening of the Yorkshire Trench

© Tourism Ieper

A unique World War I historical site

In 1992, the entrance to a British dugout (underground shelter) was accidentally discovered by a farmer on a site near Bargiestraat in Boezinge (Ypres, Belgium). “The Diggers”, a group of amateur archaeologists led by Patrick Van Wanzeele, uncovered the entrance. The shelter turned out to be a real time capsule and the finds were spectacular.

Further investigation revealed the alignment of a shallow trench from 1915 and a well-preserved trench from 1917. The 1915 trench was dug after the fighting that followed the first gas attack on 22 April 1915. This first allied line was initially French but became British on 5 June 1915. It was the 49th West Riding Infantry Division, mainly men from Sheffield, Leeds, Huddersfield and Halifax, who occupied the trench. In the spring of 1917, the second trench we now know as the Yorkshire Trench was dug from this site: a 'single file trench' with drainage provided by the use of A-frames and duckboards. The trench served as headquarters for the 13th and 16th Battalions Royal Welsh Fusiliers during the Third Battle of Ypres, but was abandoned after the first assault of the great British offensive.

An important site with an educational purpose

From 1998, the industrial estate along the Ypres-Boezinge canal was being expanded, so it fell upon the Diggers to beat the construction taking place by working every Saturday. Countless valuable artefacts were unearthed, as well as ammunition.  The In Flanders Fields Museum was able to add the most exceptional pieces to its collection. The large industrial site also yielded many human remains. In total, more than 200 bodies were recovered. They were laid to rest in one of the British, French or German cemeteries in the region.

Besides the museum's acquisition of the most exceptional finds, the city of Ypres was able to purchase a small plot of land around the Yorkshire & Trench Dugout. In August 2002 the Diggers restored about 70m of the trench and dugout entrances. Most of the original A-frames have been used, but the walkways and thousands of sandbags are new.  The footprint of the 1915 shelter and shallow trench have been marked out on the site with footpaths and gravel paths. Information boards give visitors valuable insight into the historical events of this fraught site.

As part of the theme year 'Landscapes, Feel Flanders Fields', from Westtoer and Visitflanders, the In Flanders Fields Museum has also developed a new educational day trip: The Salient Illustrated. British cartoonist Dave Chisholm (The Sunday Times & The Daily Telegraph) created a large landscape illustration of the northern battlefield of the Ypres Salient. One hundred iconic soldiers - all doing their bit to bring the war experience to life. At the centre of the landscape is the preserved site of the Yorkshire Trench & Dugout. The drawing helps students understand how the Yorkshire Trench fits into a larger trench system and what life was like in the trenches. A visit to Yorkshire Trench and Dugout facilitates a historically authentic walking experience through the trench.

Need for renovation

Access to the Yorkshire trench is currently very limited due to the collapse of the sandbag wall in the trench. Earlier this year, the northern entrance to the shelter also collapsed. These recent problems are the result of changing water levels, which are affecting the original wooden structure of the shelter entrances. In fact, there has been a systematic drop in the local groundwater level over the past five years. This is undoubtedly linked to the paving of industrial sites and the climate crisis and has seriously threatened not only the amenity but also the survival of the site. Exploration of the trench had therefore to be limited or halted.

What has already happened?

A thorough restoration of the dugouts took place in the spring of 2023.  The staircases leading to the dugout were renewed. The underground chambers are clearly visible thanks to a path in the dolomite. The public footpath is clearly marked and new visitor panels provide interpretation. A sustainable management plan has been implemented supported by the city’s technical support.

Crowdfunding in the UK

Thanks to the financial support of Visit Flanders, Westtoer and hundreds of voluntary contributions from all over the world, the In Flanders Field Museum were able to restore the collapsed dugout in the spring of 2023.

The museum also relied on much support from the UK. John Morrison, a Yorkshireman himself, started a crowdfunding campaign to raise money from British supporters. John organised several activities to raise money and awareness for his crowdfunding campaign. The Officer Cadets took part in the Yorkshire Trench 110 mile run from Leeds to York, then to Sheffield and back to Leeds. John organised a sponsored walk from Boulogne to Ypres. They also gave talks to raise awareness of the site and its condition. The Yorkshire Volunteer Association also decided to make the Yorkshire Trench their cause and media publicity helped bring much needed awareness for the campaign.

John Morrison was able to raise some €17,000 for the repair works, which he donated for the renovations in the spring of 2023. He remains fully committed to raising funds to fully restore the site.


John retired from the British Army in April 2023 after 44 years of service. He was a senior storekeeper and Regimental Catering Warrant Officer with the Yorkshire Officers' Training Regiment at Carlton Barracks. During this time he took several reserve recruits from Sheffield and Leeds universities on trips to Europe, often taking them to the Yorkshire Trench & Dugout site. A visit to the trench is a stark reminder of the conditions in which the soldiers lived and fought during World War 1.

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