World War One may have ended in 1918, but more than eighty years later the town of Nieuwpoort in Belgium was still feeling the impact.
In December 2000, it was discovered that the main road through the town was in danger of collapse, along with the houses built on it, due to the tunnels that had been dug in the area during the war.
The problem is being caused by the rotting of the timber supports, which were used shore up the tunnels. More than 80 years after the war had ended, these supports were rotting away and forcing the ground above to subside.
According to scientists, this issue is not isolated to Nieuwpoort; many of the tunnels built by Allied soldiers are in danger of collapsing, which could affect towns and villages across Flanders.
Professor Peter Doyle, University of Greenwich, said:
"Much of Flanders - the land over which the battle for Passchendaele was fought - is sitting on a time bomb."
Deep tunnels were built by French and British troops across the area of Flanders as a means of protecting their troops before they went into battle. One such tunnel was built by the Royal Engineers in Nieuwpoort to house 10,000 troops and 627 artillery guns before the third battle of Ypres took place, which meant the tunnel itself was incredibly long.
The shelters built within the tunnels became known as “elephant shelters” as they provided protection from the constant barrage of German artillery shells. They were built on a vast scale, containing more than 220 staircases and more than 2,000 ventilation shafts. Some individual shelters could house more than 1,000 men, preventing them from seeing daylight (or danger) until the moment when they were required to attack.
Nieuwpoort suffered particularly badly during the war, and was actually flattened in 1918 to allow the area a new start. While this flattening did include the placement of around 10 feet of additional soil above the tunnels, it did not include the filling in of the tunnels running beneath the town. This was due to the fact that the British and French high command had left Flanders, and as such nobody knew the tunnels existed.
For a long time, the tunnels sat undisturbed while the town grew above them. However, 80 years after they were first constricted, scientists began to notice signs that they might finally give way. The problem affected almost 12 miles of tunnels and the cost of putting the problem right was significant. Scientists predict this problem could appear again in the future in other parts of Europe where the same tunnel systems were created
"Nieuwport in 2000". HistoryLearning.com. 2019. Web.