By the end of the Great War, the destruction of the Ypres Salient was complete. The fabled Flanders Fields were devastated, hardly a building or tree was left standing in the battlefield areas that surrounded the city of Ypres. This once proud and prosperous medieval city had been reduced to rubble by years of German artillery fire.
Such was the level of destruction it is said that in 1919, a man on horseback had an unrestricted view from one corner of the city to the other. The rural areas surrounding the city faired no better with the armies firing millions of artillery shells in an area of roughly 100 square miles. The landscape had been transformed from its peacetime agricultural scene to one of death and horror. The Ypres Salient was now a lunar surface of deep mud and millions of flooded shell holes whose murky depths concealed the horrors which lay beneath their surface.
In November 1918 the war ended and the warring factions laid down their arms and began to think of a post-war life at home with their families. For the people of Ypres, however, the war had left an indelible imprint on the fields of Flanders. The detritus and horror of war lay all around to see. The industrial armies of the Great War had retired back from where they had come leaving a scene of complete annihilation behind them. Millions of unexploded artillery shells littered the landscape, the ground was contaminated with copper, lead and all sorts of poisonous chemicals. The graves of the fallen covered the battlefields, with many bodies laying exposed on the surface rotting in the morass. Very little would grow in these 'devasted regions', the water was polluted and shelter was non-existent. Yet the people of Ypres gradually returned to this scene of purgatory, ready to rebuild their houses and remove the traces of war from the landscape. They set to the task, determined to succeed.
Reclaiming the Salient tells the remarkable story of the Great War 'clean up' in the Ypres Salient. Covering the early days after the war, when official military teams were present salvaging whatever they could, and the years after their departure the book, gives a detailed insight into the first truly industrial worldwide conflict and the incredible amounts of raw materials and human lives it consumed in its wake.
Covering two specific subjects, the recovery of ammunition and the recovery of human remains from the Great War in the Salient, the book takes the story of the clearing of the battlefields up to the present day. The Great War guns fell silent in the Ypres Salient well over 100 years ago, yet their impact is still evident. Each year the Belgian bomb disposal units recover an average of 250 tons of Great War munitions from the fields of Flanders. With the cooperation of the Belgian armed forces Reclaiming the Salient is able to describe in depth the discovery and destruction process of Great War munitions discovered in the Ypres Salient. Unfortunately, munitions are not the only thing recovered on a regular basis. Each year the farmer's plough or construction work will reveal the mortal remains of missing soldiers who have lain lost in the fields of Flanders since the end of the Great war. With the cooperation of the MOD and CWGC, Reclaiming the Salient details the recovery, potential identification and reburial process of the remains of our fallen discovered in the Ypres Salient today.