Hooge Crater Museum
More background info:
Hooge changed hands several times during WW1
and is often regarded as one of the most dangerous places to have been on the Ypres Salient.
The Hooge Crater is the result of an early underground mine explosion, in fact only the second one set off by the Allies during the war. Tunnelling companies dug a long tunnel under some German positions and fortifications that were under construction here. Two tunnels/mines were planned, but one tunnel ran off course. The mine put in the other tunnel was a charge of 3500 lbs (ca. 1600 kg) of the then new explosive ammonal, the most powerful explosive substance in existence at the time, in addition to regular gunpowder.
The mine was set off on 19 July 1915. The explosion created a crater some 20 feet (6m) deep and 100 feet (40m) across. Hundreds of German soldiers are believed to have been killed by the blast. The Allies quickly seized control of the crater after it was formed as it provided good cover. But within two weeks it was retaken by the Germans. Dugouts were also created with their entrances inside the crater wall.
At Hooge a war cemetery was established still during the war. After the armistice this was expanded by bringing in corpses from other smaller cemeteries, in the efforts to concentrate the burial places into fewer locations. It was designed in the usual style by the Imperial, now Commonwealth War Graves Commission, with uniform Portland stone headstones, a Cross of Sacrifice and a Stone of Remembrance (cf. Tyne Cot
) set within a symbolic circular depression, in allusion to the Hooge Crater nearby. Of the over 5000 graves, well over half are for unidentified dead soldiers. Some stones stand for three, four or even five soldiers at the same time (hence the number of stones is lower than that of the dead buried here).
Across the road from the cemetery a chapel was built in 1920. By the early 1990s this had become disused and was in need of repair. A private family purchased the site, including an adjacent school building, and created a museum from two individuals’ extensive collections of WW1 artefacts from the region. The museum first opened its doors in 1994. In 2009 it changed hands but is still run as a private museum.
What there is to see: Outside the chapel-turned-museum are some artefacts on open-air display including a couple of pieces of artillery and heaps of rusty shells as well as a short bit of narrow-gauge railway tracks, of the kind that used to run alongside Menin Street.
The Hooge Crater Museum exhibition
inside the chapel is relatively old-school in style. On display are primarily amassed relics from WW1
in old-fashioned glass cabinets, as well as some larger dioramas with soldier dummies and even life-size horses. The largest exhibits are a Ford Model T converted into a field ambulance and a ca. 1:3-scale model of the Fokker triplane fighter used by flying ace Manfred von Richthofen, aka the Red Baron. The model doesn’t look too convincing, though. Some of the dioramas of trenches work better, but the main thing here is all the smaller artefacts. These range from guns, shells, uniforms, helmets, tools (esp. shovels), bugles, ammunition, medals, medical equipment, gas mortars and gas masks to soldiers’ personal belongings, including packets of cigarettes from the time. (Indeed the tobacco industry exploited the war to its great advantage, namely by supplying contingents of “donated” cigarettes to the front line, thus creating millions of nicotine addicts amongst the survivors of the war as a greatly enlarged mass of customers for decades to come …)
Also displayed are plenty of documents, propaganda posters and newspaper clippings in addition to charts and maps of the front line and how it changed in the battles. There’s also a scale model of a trench scene with a British tank. One unusual artefact is a stuffed rat high on a trench’s ridge … this is to illustrate the constant fight with such unwelcome rodents always following the soldiers into the trenches and dugouts.
In between, major phases of the war are summarized on text panels. Larger general text panels are in four languages (Flemish/Dutch, English, French and German) but labels of the exhibits are often in Dutch and English only
There are also photos from the war as well as video material and a movie about Australian soldiers during the Third Battle of Ypres (see under Ypres
Next to the museum is a “Theme Café”, where refreshments are served. It’s called “theme” because the walls are lined with yet more war photos as well as hundreds of empty artillery shells turned into “trench art”, i.e. bearing more or less artful engravings on the polished brass.
Across the road from the chapel/museum is a large Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery
with over 5000 graves. Somewhat starker in design than Tyne Cot
it still conveys a visual impression of the slaughter that was WW1
Ca. 250 yards up the road heading east you come to the Kasteelhof ‘t Hooghe hotel, a stately mansion built after the war where the stables of the destroyed castle of Hooge would have stood. Directly next to that and freely accessible, is the Front Line Hooghe Open-Air Museum
, namely around the actual Hooge Crater
that was created by an underground tunnel mine in July 1915 (see above
). As this completely filled with water it is now a lake – in fact it was enlarged after the war to become a more picturesque, more natural looking lake.
You can see a couple of German-built bunkers, one semi-submerged in the crater’s water, the other more accessible. Around the land next to the crater are various remnants of trenches as well as all manner of rusty WW1-era debris, mostly empty shells. Dotted around are a few text-and-photo panels (in Flemish/Dutch and English).
All in all
, I found this site less informative and engaging than, say, the In Flanders Fields Museum
or the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917
. The Hooge Crater Museum advertises itself as “the best private museum on the Ypres Salient”, which may be true, but it’s still a far cry from the more professional larger counterparts. Some of the items in the vast collection are certainly interesting, but it really has more the character of a war relic collection and is only minimalistically “museumified” in comparison. So, unless your focus is precisely on authentic relics amassed in a small space, this is perhaps one site you can skip if you’re pressed for time.
Google Maps locators:
Access and costs: fairly easy to get to (at least by car or bicycle); open-air parts freely accessible, the museum charges an entrance fee.
In theory you could get a bus to near the site, line 84 from Groote Markt in Ypres
, getting out at Bellewaerde (the stop for the amusement park – see below
) and walk back on Menin Street a few hundred yards. At a push you could walk it all the way from Ypres, that would take between 45 minutes and an hour.
But of course it’s more comfortable to drive or cycle there. As an expressly “cycle-friendly” museum plenty of space for parking bikes is provided. For cars there are about a dozen or so parking spaces available alongside Menin Street (Meenseweg/Menenstraat). The drive from Ypres only takes about 5 to 8 minutes.
Opening times of the Hooge Crater Museum: Tuesday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; on Sundays to 9 p.m., closed Mondays and for the whole period between 20 December and 1 February.
Admission: 7 EUR (students/children 4 EUR)
The cemetery and open-air complex around the crater are theoretically freely accessible at all times, but going there after dark would not make much sense and could be a bit dicey by the crater.
Time required: depends very much on how long you wish to look at all manner of WW1 relics. I spent less than 45 minutes in the Hooge Crater Museum and a bit over 15 minutes at the open-air museum part, plus a few moments at the cemetery. Real WW1 history buffs will likely want to spend more time here.
Combinations with other dark destinations: Next to the Hooge Crater Museum is the easternmost of the three “Entry Points Ypres Salient”, a cluster of walking/cycling routes along the old front line. There are some panels at the entry point providing historical information and photos as well as a video screen mounted to a concrete wall showing moving images.
The next nearest site is the Sanctuary Wood/Hill 62
site, a ca. 20-minute walk or short drive away to the south of Hooge.
Heading towards the western end of Menin Street (Meenseweg/Menenstraat) takes you to the Menin Gate
in the heart of Ypres
Combinations with non-dark destinations: Directly adjacent to the Hooge Crater site, visible and audible from there, is the “Bellewaerde” amusement park with a roller coaster and other rides. This creates the bizarre contrast to the authentic war site when the rides are in operation and you can frequently hear people on the rides screaming (as many people for some reason tend to do … I’ve personally never quite understood that and never screamed on rides myself, but so what …).
- Hooge 01 - museum in an old chapel
- Hooge 02 - rusty old shells outside
- Hooge 03 - shiny polished old shells in the museum cafe
- Hooge 04 - yet more shells in the museum proper
- Hooge 05 - museum exhibition
- Hooge 06 - with flags overseeing everything
- Hooge 07 - trench reconstruction
- Hooge 08 - looking over the edge onto the battlefield
- Hooge 09 - trench and tank model
- Hooge 10 - large Red Baron triplane model
- Hooge 11 - gas masks
- Hooge 12 - sleeping with gas mask on
- Hooge 13 - canary
- Hooge 14 - gas warning poster
- Hooge 15 - no health warnings on these yet
- Hooge 16 - shaving dummy German
- Hooge 17 - field kitchen
- Hooge 18 - trench rat
- Hooge 19 - Kasteelhof
- Hooge 20 - more to see open air
- Hooge 21 - relics and bunker ruin
- Hooge 22 - flooded inside
- Hooge 23 - flooded mine crater
- Hooge 24 - largely submerged bunker
- Hooge 25 - trench
- Hooge 26 - rusty relics
- Hooge 27 - neighbouring funfair
- Hooge 28 - war cemetery across the road
- Hooge 29 - another sea of graves
- Hooge 30 - old gun outside the Salient entry point next to the museum