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Diksmuide (Municipality, Province of West Flanders, Belgium)


Last modified: 2019-06-25 by ivan sache
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Flag of Diksmuide - Image by Ivan Sache, 16 June 2007

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Presentation of Diksmuide

The municipality of Diksmuide (locally known as Smude; in French, Dixmude; 15,764 inhabitants on 1 July 2007; 14,940 ha, therefore the biggest municipality by its area in West Flanders; municipal website, tourism website) is located on river Yser in the Westhoek region. The municipality of Diksmuide was established in 1976 as the merger of the former municipalities of Diksmuide (5,180 inh.; 212 ha; including a big part of the former municipality of Esen [1,854 inh.; 1,753 ha] since 1924, the rest of Esen and Kaaskerke (458 inh.; 873 ha), Beerst (1,127 inh.; 1,166 ha; including Keiem [1,298 inh.; 1,292 ha] since 1971), Oudekapelle (135 inh.; 651 ha), Sint-Jacobskapelle (96 inh.; 325 ha), Nieuwkapelle (406 inh.; 785 ha - the three Kapelle formed from 1971 to 1976 the municipality of Driekapellen), Leke (1,124 inh.; 1,073 ha), Pervijze (886 inh.; 1,223 ha, including Lampernisse [198 ha; 1,362 ha], Oostkerke [285 inh.; 377 ha] and Stuivekenskerke [160 inh.; 734 ha]), Vladslo (1,239 inh.; 1,733 ha) and Woumen (1,307 inh.; 1,383 ha - in 1971, Woutem lost the parish of Jonkershove, allocated to Houthulst).
Diksmuide, Esen and Kaaskerke form the urban nucleus of the municipality, whereas the other villages have remained rural.

Diksmuide was built in the 9th century on the confluency of the Krekebeek and the Yser. The town was then called Dicasmutha, "the dyke on the mouth". The settlement started as a port, near which a chapel, depending on Esel, and a market were founded in 960. Diksmuide was granted municipal rights in the 12th century and was surrounded in 1270 by earthen walls. Dairy products and cloth making were the two pillars of Diksmuide's wealth. The town declined in the 15th century and was threatened in the second half of the 17th century by French attacks. Peace and activity were restored in the 19th century, but not for long.

The battle of the Yzer started on 16 October 1914. As a part of the von Schlieffen plan, known as "the rush to the sea", the Germans expected to break the allied front near Diksmuide to reach Dunkirk and near Ieper to reach Calais. The Kaiser also wanted to enter Ieper on 1 November and proclaim there the annexion of Belgium to Germany. On 19 October, the Germans occupied the villages of Leke, Keiem and Beerst. The allied decided to withdraw along the Yser, so that Diksmuide became a bridgehead on the right bank of the river.
Diksmuide was defended by a Belgian brigade (5,000 men) commanded by Colonel Jean-Baptiste Meiser (1857-1940) and 6,000 French marines, most of them being Bretons, commanded by Admiral Pierre-Alexis Ronarc'h (1865-1940). Generalissimo Foch ordered Ronarc'h: "You must resist at all costs, but you shall be relieved within four days". They indeed resisted, but for 25 days! The artillery commanded by the Duke of Wurtemberg started the destruction of the town, but the marines entranched themselves 300 m from the German first line and did not move back. In the beginning of the attack, they were visited by a Belgian officier wearing a black tunic but no stripes: he was Albert I, King of the Belgians. On 21 October, Diksmuide was bombed, the church and the belfry were burnt down; several German waves of attacks were repelled by the Belgian and French defenders of the town. On 24 October, the Germans, having conquered most of the valley of the Yser, took Pervijze and Ramskapelle. General Grossetti (1861-1918), commanding the French 42nd division, attacked Pervijze. The Germans counter-attacked with shrapnells and Grossetti said "Open your umbrellas", ordering the soldiers to protect their heads with their backpacks. He asked a chair and sat in the middle of the road, giving orders under the fire; Pervijze was reconquered while Ronarc'h still hold Diksmuide.
On 26 October, the marines were joined by the Senegalese infantrymen of the 4th Moroccan Battalion and of the 1st Algerian Battalion. The last defense line was the railway Nieuwpoort-Diksmuide. Foch said later: "This 1.20-m high embankment saved all of us". The Belgians then decided to open the Nieuwpoort locks to flood the area, as had done the Dutch against Louis XIV. The Germans abandoned their flooded positions and broke for a while the frontline; supported by the 32nd Army Corps commanded by General Georges-Louis Humbert (1862-1921), the allied repelled the Germans and counter-attacked in the south of Diksmuide. On 1 November, the 42nd Division and the marines attacked the fortified castle of Woutem.
On 10 November, the marines abandoned the ruins of Diksmuide and dynamited the bridges on the Yser. The Germans had lost 100,000 men and had not cross the Yser. Two-thirds of the French marines died during the fighting. The flooded area protected Dunkirk until the end of the war. The Ronarc'h Brigade was disbanded in November 1915; volunteers formed a 850-men marines' battalion and fought along with the land army, especially in Laffaux on the famous Chemin des Dames.
[La course à la mer - La Bataille des Flandres]

The Dixmude (website) was the biggest dirigeable (length, 226 m) ever used in France. Built as the LZ 114 in the Zeppelin factory in Löwenthal (Germany), it was transferred to France in 1920 as part of the war damages. In 1923, he crossed the Mediterranean Sea and was lost during a thunderstorm on 22 December 1923; the body of its commander Jean du Plessis de Grenedan, was found five years later by Sicilian fishers. None of the 50 men of the crew escaped the crash.
The French Navy operated the light career Dixmude (presentation) from 1945 to 1966. The Dixmude left the Tacoma shipyards (USA) as the cargo ship Mormactern on 8 December 1940 and was immediatly transformed by the US Navy into an auxiliary career. The ship was transferred to the Royal Navy and renamed Biter, and eventually sold to the French Navy in early 1945. The Dixmude served in Inodchina in 1947 and contributed to the evacuation of Tonkin in 1954. Decommissioned in 1964, the Dixmude was retroceded in 1966 to the US Navy, that used it as a target for the training of the VIIth Fleet.

The Yser Tower (IJzertoren, website), located near the Yser in Kaaskerke, is a main symbol of the Flemish identity. During the First World War, the command language in the Belgian army was French, something which was not pleased by the Flemish soldiers. Their agenda was made of three parts: Peace - Freedom - Tolerance. The first Yser Pilgrimage (IJzerbedevaart) was organized in 1920; it is the oldest and largest peace gathering organized in Europe, every last Sunday of August, and a strong political demonstration of the Flemish claims to self-determination. The building of the Yser Tower started in 1928; the 50-m high monument was inaugurated on 24 August 1930 during the commemoration of the centenary of Belgium. The Tower was attacked in 1945 and completely destroyed with dynamite on the night of 15-16 Match 1946. Debris of the monument were used to build the Peace Gateway (Paxpoort), inaugurated in 1950. The first pile of the new Tower was driven into the ground in 1950, the first brick was laid in 1952; the crypt was inaugurated in 1958 and the 84-m high Tower in 1965. The Tower ends in a cross bearing the letters AVV / VVK (Alles Voor Vlaanderen / Vlaanderen Voor Kristus - All for Flanders / Flanders for Christ).
The Death Sap (Dodengang / Boyau de la Mort), also located in Kaaskerke, is the last frontline site of the First World War that has been preserved in Belgium.
In the military cemetary of Keiem, 628 Belgian soldiers from the 8th and 13th regiments of the line are buried. The German military cemetary of Vladslo includes the tombs of 25,638 soldiers, the most famous of them being Peter Kollwitz, the son of the German expressionist artist Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945). She started the two statues Het Treureund Oudepaar (The Afflicted Old Parents) soon after Peter's death and completed it in 1932; she offerred the statues to the municipal cemetary of Esen, where Peter had fallen and was buried. The work, still the property of the Kollwitz family, was transferred to the Vladslo cemetary in 1956.

Ivan Sache, 16 June 2007

Flag of Diksmuide

The flag of Diksmuide is horizontally divided yellow-blue-yellow-blue-yellow-blue-yellow-blue (eight stripes).
According to Gemeentewapens in België - Vlaanderen en Brussel [w2v02], the flag, adopted on 30 January 1986 by the Municipal Council, is prescribed by a Decree issued on 4 November 1986 by the Executive of Flanders and published on 3 December 1987 in the Belgian official gazette.
The flag is a banner of the municipal arms, officially described as "Eight equally wide yellow and blue horizontal stripes".

The municipal website has a detailed account on the origin of the municipal arms, by Herman Demoen (March 2000).
According to L'Espinoy, Arnould the Old, Count of Flanders, appointed in 965 Thiry de Beverne [Beveren] as the Burgrave of Diksmuide. The lineage kept the domain of Diksmuide for the next three centuries. They bore "Fessy or and azure of eight pieces a saltire gules overall".
Therefore, the arms of Diksmuide would be the arms of the ancient lords without the saltire.
The Gelre Armorial shows "Fessy or and azure of eight pieces a saltire gules overall" for Henri II of Beveren, lord of Diksmuide (Borchggrave v. Dixmueden, #936, folio 80v). The today's municipality of Beveren uses these arms as the municipal arms and a banner of these arms as the municipal flag.

The old municipal seals did not bear those arms but showed an enthroned bishop, or abbot, with miter and staff; Servais reports this design on seals dated 1245, 1309, 1499 and 1563. The arms of the lords of Diksmuide appeared on later seals. They were suppressed after the French Revolution; on 17 September 1806, the Mayor of Diksmuide, following the Decree signed by the préfet of the Department of Leie on 12 September 1806, submitted the old municipal seal to the sous-préfet, probably to re-establish the municipal arms. They were eventually granted by (Dutch) Royal Decree on 28 July 1819 or 1829 (the source gives the two dates in two different paragraphs!) and confirmed by (Belgian) Royal Decree on 7 April 1838, as "Fessy or and azure of eight pieces the shield surmounted with a crown or".
After the municipal merging of 1976, Diksmuide kept its old municipal arms, with an amended description, "Fessy or and azure of eight pieces. The shield surmounted by a mural crown or with five towers".

Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 16 June 2007

Former municipality of Pervijze

Pervijze was originally a sheep pasture called Paradisus, granted by Count of Flanders Baudouin V to the abbey of Ename in 1063. "Paradisus" is probably related to an old cemetery, an hypothesis partially supported by excavations made in the 19th century. Pervijze appeared in 1172 as Parvisia, listed among the churches owned by the abbey of Ename.
Located on the Yser front, Pervijze was completely destroyed during the First World War. A three-weeks old child found in the ruins of the village in 1915, Albert Ameuuw died in 2002 as "Mr. Pervyse".
Increased in 1970 by the incorporation of the former municipalities of Stuivekenskerke, Lampernisse and Oostkerke, the municipality of Pervijze was incorporated into Diksmuide in 1976.

The Pervijze Aktief association planned to design a flag for Groot-Pervijze (Greater Pervijze, that is Pervijze + Stuivekenskerke + Lamprenisse + Oostkerke).
After an heraldic study, Adelson Decat proposed a coat of arms, "Quarterly, 1. Argent a boar sable a base vert, 2. Ermine a fox gules, 3. Lozengy azure and argent a chevron or. 4. Per pale gyronny of 12 pieces or and azure an escutcheon gules and argent two keys sable accosted. Inescutcheon azure three fesses or topped with a 'crown' azure."
The elements of the coat of arms represent the different components of Pervijze as follows:
1. Stuivekenskerke. Since the village did not have arms, the arms of the Vicogne family were used.
2. Lampernisse. Since the village did not have arms either, the arms of the Zannekin family were used. The fox looks towards dexter, as shown on ancient rolls of arms. Nicolaas Zannekin (d. 1328), born in Lampernisse, led the farmers' revolt against Count of Flanders Louis of Nevers; the rebels seized Nieuwpoort, Veurne, Ieper and Kortrijk, capturing there the count, but failed to seize Ghent and Oudenaarde. Upon intervention of King of France Charles IV, the count was released and the short-lived Peace of Arques was signed in 1326. When the uprising resumed, the count fled to France and called to help the new king of France, Philip IV, whose troops defeated the rebels in Cassel in 1328. Zannekin was killed during the battle; his funerary stele in the church of Lampernisse shows his coat of arms.
3. Oostkerke, official arms of the village, as shown in Dit is West- Vlaanderen.
4. Pervijze, official arms of the village, as shown in Dit is West- Vlaanderen. According to Servais [svm55], the arms of Pervijze were granted by Royal Decree on 28 August 1847. The right part of the arms shows the ancient arms of the Counts of Flanders, owners of the village until 1063. The keys are derived from the old arms of the domain of Berkel, which included the village of Sint-Catharina-Capelle, incorporated into Pervijze in 1811; the keys appeared on the village seal in the 17th century.
Inscutcheon. Diksmuide, modern, official arms of the municipality, surmounted by a mural crown in "simplified" version.
Whether this coat of arms ever appeared on a flag is not known. The authors of the proposal expected that "courtyards during festivals and several houses will be decorated with the flag".
[Westhoek Info, 25 June 2004]

Jan Mertens & Ivan Sache, 24 November 2008