MORE than a century after the First World War, relics of the conflict remain beneath the ground in Flanders.

Weapons and bullets are still unearthed in gardens and fields, along with everyday items - tool-kits, cutlery, water bottles - of men who died in the mud in these former battlefields.

In 1992 a farmer discovered a WW1 trench, intact, in a field in Boezinge, a village near Ypres. A team of amateur archaeologists called the Diggers, led by Patrick Van Wanzeele, partially excavated the site and discovered an underground shelter, passages and chambers. Further excavations took place in 1998, just before the expansion of a neighbouring industrial estate, and more than 200 bodies of British, French and German soldiers were recovered. They were later buried in war cemeteries.

Built in 1915, the shallow trench was maintained by regiments from West Yorkshire and Sheffield. Thus it became known as the Yorkshire Trench. It was extended with a dug out in 1917. After the war the site lay buried beneath overgrowth. When it was found, the fragile trench was in danger of being lost again.

Now it has been restored and opened as a visitor site - thanks largely to funding from Yorkshire. John Morrison, a reservist at the Yorkshire Officers’ Training Regiment, set up a crowdfunding project, raising more than £17,000 in Yorkshire. With funds also raised by the Friends of In Flanders Field Museum (IFFM) in Ypres, and elsewhere in Belgium, the trench was fully restored in the spring. Earlier this month the Yorkshire Trench and Dug Out was officially opened.

It is the only British trench in the Ypres Salient still in its original location. The excavated site covers about 70 metres of the trench and both dugout entrances.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Entrance to one of the dug outs in the trenchEntrance to one of the dug outs in the trench (Image: Toerism Lepe/Visitflanders)

John Morrison was visibly moved to see it finally opened. In recent years he’s organised fundraising events for the restoration, including a sponsored walk from Boulogne to Ypres. “I was here in 2018 on a battlefield tour and someone said ‘You should visit the Yorkshire Trench’. I couldn’t believe what I saw,” said John. “One of the main problems with funding was that it wasn’t eligible for UK grants. Crowdfunding was the only way.”

John has given lectures about the restoration. He visited Bradford World War 1 Group to talk about it. “When I mention the trench, the first thing people say is: ‘My uncle, grandad, great grandad was wounded, killed or an unknown in Ypres’. Donating gave them a forum to remember a family member lost to the war. Listening to people’s stories, and reading individual accounts, including the diaries of Bradford’s Captain EV Tempest of the 6th Battalion West Yorks Regiment, I realised there was only one salient where so much misery, murder and mud was compressed into so small a place - and that was Ypres.”

It is, says John, a place name passed down in families: “The people of Yorkshire in the late August sunshine of 1914 were completely unprepared for what was to come. They knew little of the Flanders city famous for its historic cloth hall but they soon would, for it occupied a strategic position, in the path of the German armies’ sweep across Belgium. Ypres, with its natural barrier of canals and roads, became a centre of British defence on the Western Front.

“I talked to many people while raising funds. Most had heard of Ypres. Some didn’t know why, but in the back of their minds a long lost grandad or uncle will have been mentioned. Some know where their relative was killed or wounded, buried in the vast cemeteries around Ypres, or still lying in the earth, unknown.

“There were so many other battles, including of course the Somme, where my home town of Leeds lost most of its Pals Battalion. But mention Ypres in Leeds, Bradford, Halifax, and people know it. For those back home during the war, there was no burial place, nowhere to mourn their dead. So commemorative memorials were created, bearing names of battles, and Ypres was on every one.

"In WW1 the Yorkshire Regiment raised 24 battalions and 65,000 soldiers served in them. Of thes, 9,200 were killed in action or died of wounds or disease. A further 24,000 were wounded. Nearly every street had a casualty and in many of them the curtains were closed.

"Yorkshire has a collective memory of Ypres. The Yorkshire Trench is part of the fabric of that memory. ”

Says IFFM director Stephen Lodewyck: ”To fully understand the story of the First World War in this region, you have to go out into the landscape in search of its witnesses. You find them in cemeteries and monuments, but also in crater pits or trenches.

"Yorkshire Trench is the only British trench in the Ypres Salient still preserved on its original alignment. The importance of this site cannot be overstated. It offers a window into the war.”

In October 1914 the Ypres Salient was one of the most notorious war zones on the Western Front. The Yorkshire Trench was located on its northern stretch. Built by the French, it was managed by the 49th (West Riding) Division from June, 1915. The trench bore witness to major episodes of WW1 - the fighting after the first gas attack in April 1915, and the Third Battle of Ypres, the Battle of Passchendaele, in July 1917.

Trenches often flooded and had to be pumped. After this trench was abandoned, in 1917, it filled with water and survived. Earlier this year one of the dug out entrances collapsed; wooden stairwells were renewed and safety barriers installed. Most of the original A-frames have been restored, and the walkways and sandbags replaced.

The footprint of the shelter and trench is marked out with footpaths and gravel paths. Signs indicate underground chambers, including pump room and carpenter’s workshop, lying 10 metres below. There are also information panels with QR codes. Artefacts from the trench are displayed at In Flanders Fields Museum, along with a model of it and a film of the Diggers’ work.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: A model of the Yorkshire Trench at In Flanders Field MuseumA model of the Yorkshire Trench at In Flanders Field Museum (Image: In Flanders Field Museum)

Among those at the opening were a group of Boezinge schoolchildren, visiting a new educational experience, The Salient Illustrated, bringing the war to life. Also an app, it features two artworks - an information panel and a panoramic drawing of the northern Ypres Salient battlefield - by cartoonist Dave Chisholm, who has produced work for the Sunday Times and the Daily Telegraph.

Dave's remarkable drawing shows how the Yorkshire Trench fits into the larger trench system, both sides of No Man’s Land, and what wartime life was like. “I worked for months with the IFFM Learning Team to get every detail right,” he says. “A lot of children learn visually; they will remember a bright, colourful artwork. I hope it helps future generations understand what happened here during the First World War.”

Continued support is needed to maintain the Yorkshire Trench, and the IFFM has launched a longterm crowdfunding campaign. To find out more go to and