Waterways were a vital lifeline on the Western Front
during the First World War, saving millions from starvation and carrying tens
of thousands of wounded to safety. But as ready-made lines of defence, many men
also lost their lives trying to cross them.
This untold story of human endeavour on a vast scale
about the waterways of France and Belgium will unfold in a fascinating new
exhibition opening at the London Canal Museum near King's Cross on 10 October.
Using unseen archive film and photos, first hand
testimonies and rare objects, the exhibition charts the critical role played by
canals in contributing to the war effort. The scale is hard to grasp. Many
hundreds of barges took five million tons of food to prevent starvation in
Belgium and transported thousands of tons of munitions each day to Ypres.
Nurses taking part in a fishing contest off the side of a
hospital barge. Watten, June 1918. Copyright: Imperial War Museum
Wounded horses being led onto barges for transport to a
veterinary hospital. Canal de l'Aa, Saint-Omer, June 1918. Copyright:
Imperial War Museum
Admission is £4 for adults,
£3 concessions and £2 for children. (More information on admission here) Open
Tuesdays to Sundays 10am to 4.30pm. Admission to this exhibition only is
free on the first Thursday of every month between 4.30pm and 7pm. For more
information call 020 7713 0836 or email: email@example.com
Soldiers fill cans with drinking water pumped
up from a barge which was part of a canal water purification unit. With
permission of the Royal Engineers Museum
The exhibition reveals the unexpected - how troops
were billeted in empty lock chambers, how barges were used as hospitals for
horses, and how canal water was served up to troops to drink on the front
It tells personal stories, including that of Henrick
Geeraert, a Belgian tug boat owner whose actions stopped the Germans taking the
channel ports and Millicent Peterkin, one of the nursing sisters who worked
tirelessly on a hospital barge carrying the wounded to safety.
It highlights the importance of the Royal Engineers
who kept the waterways open, blew up bridges behind British retreats and built
the bridges that took tanks into the final offensive. In just a few months the
Engineers also built the secret port of Richborough on the Kent coast along
with a new fleet of barges which supplied the front for the second half of the
A group of elderly
refugees from Merville, including a priest with a bicycle and elderly women
wearing hats, flee the German offensive using the towpath on the Lys canal.
Battle of the Lys. Spring 1918. Copyright: Imperial War Museum