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Stories of Bruges

More stories to tell

There are so many stories to tell about Bruges (and Belgium) so this is where you'll find them.

If you want to get a personal tour filled with other stories... Reservations can be made.

If you have a request (walk or story), ask through mail (info@yourbruges.com) and I'll look it up for you !

Plane crash at the Church of Our Lady

Historical moments Posted on Fri, July 17, 2020 10:43:23

Early in the morning, on Thursday, 29 September 1938, 2nd Lieutenant Paul Verlaine took off with his Fairey Fox II from the airfield of Goetsenhoven near Tienen (east of Brussels) with as destination Knokke at the coast. His radio operator was 2nd Lieutenant Laurent Keyenberg. Due to the threat of war, (WWII was brewing) higher command decided the 2nd Lieutenant Verlaine was to be shifted to the airfield near the coast to prepare the installation of his detachment.

2nd Lieutenant Paul Verlaine

When arriving in the area of Bruges, the plane encountered a heavy fog in its way. By unlucky coincidence, the flightpath lead directly towards the tower of the Church of Our Lady of Bruges. On an altitude of around 100 meters (328 feet), the aircraft hit the southwest corner-tower and dragged a part of this tower with it. The plane crashed in the garden of the diocese palace, about 390 feet (120 meters) away from the church. The pilot, 2nd Lieutenant Paul Verlaine didn’t survive the crash, his colleague, 2nd Lieutenant Laurent Keyenberg, was severely injured and thanks to a quick surgical intervention by Professor Dr. Sebrechts, survived.

The Arrow points where the plane hit the tower

The debris of the corner-tower punctured the roof of the church and caused damage to the surrounding area. At the moment of the crash a service was held in the church. Adults and children fled the church in panic. A woman named Emilienne Verhaeghe was injured at her arm, and treated in the St John Hospital. A man named Adolf Coucke was less fortunate and was severely injured to his back. The mayor, deputy mayor Reylandt and examining magistrate Matthys soon arrived on the scene. The wheels of the airplane could be seen hanging from a balustrade at the tower. The machinegun was found against a façade of a house. There were 12 bombs on board of the plane, but only 11 were retrieved! After some inquiry with the Center of Historical Documentation of the Armed Forced is was almost certain it were training bombs on board of the plane. In peacetime no live bombs were transported in such a way.

The wreck of the Fairey Fox IIM moments after the crash

There is a report on this incident noted by André Dancoine, caretaker of the diocese palace.

The Fairey Fox IIM in which 2nd Lieutenant Verlaine flew

“On Thursday, 29 September 1938 Monsignor Lamiroy was going to consecrate a new altar in the Avekapelle. He was finished giving a mass in the small chapel and was having breakfast. Suddenly around 7.15am there we heard a crashing noise. A military plane had hit the southwest corner-tower of the Church of Our Lady and crashed in the garden of the palace. We had talked there was a heavy fog that morning. The crew of the plane were a lieutenant and radio operator. They departed from Tienen with destination Knokke. They signaled: ‘We are in a city, but don’t know where.’ Due to the heavy fog the accident happened. Between the propeller and the body of the plane a stone of about 35 kg (77lb) was stuck. The plane hit a tree in the garden; otherwise, the plane would’ve crashed in the chapel. Army, police and gendarmerie arrived quickly on the scene. It appeared there were 12 bombs on board; they looked like big bottles. Eleven were found within a short time. The next morning four soldiers came from Tienen. But the 12th bomb was not found. It was assumed it was lost somewhere on the Walplaats or the roof of the church. The lieutenant-pilot died in the crash, burned by the flammable kerosene. Doctor Coucke came on site, the radio operator was still alive and was transferred to the military hospital in the Peterseliestraat. The remains of the pilot were also brought there.
When in 1955 the second phase of the clearing of the garden took place, Gaston, a gardener with the firm De Mey, was digging out the plant on the side of the garden. He stumbled on the lost bomb! It was about 35 cm (11 inch) deep in the ground. The demolition squad came to disarm the device.”



End of WWI

Historical moments Posted on Sun, November 11, 2018 15:17:35

November 11th1918 was the official end of World War I. In a forest near the French city Compiègne, about 80 kilometres north of Paris the cease-fire was achieved.
As of 11am that morning there were no battles fought. The real end of WWI was in 1919 with the Peace-treaty of Versailles.

Negotiations started already a couple of days earlier, but an agreement was reached on November 11that 5am. The cease-fire would start at 11am, so there were still six hours to go.

The news spread very fast over the world and the morning editions on the East coast of the US headlined ‘End of the war”. In Paris the street lanterns were illuminated after years of not using. All over the world people came on the streets to celebrate.

The 26thAmerican division at the Maas-Argonnen front had prepared to attack on that morning at 9.30am. At 9.10am the news reached the division to stop all warfare starting at 11am. The planned attack was cancelled. At 10.30am the order came to have the attack go through any way.

This was no rarity on the morning of Armistice. Until the very last moments of WWI there was fights. The South Africans, located North of Mons would stay under German machinegun fire until exactly 11am. At 11am they saw the German soldier who operated the machinegun stand up, take off his helmet and make a bow in their direction. He then turned around and walked away.

Some officers would cancel attacks due to fog or some other excuse, while many pushed through. Stenay, the last French city would be conquered by American troops, with 300 fatalities in this attack.

The last British soldier, George Ellison, would die that morning at 9.30am. Around 10.50am the French courier Augustin Trebouchon died. He was bringing the message of the cease-fire and that soup would be brought at 11.30am. If you see his grave, you’ll see that he died on November 10th, as for all other French troops who died on that day. This to avoid annoying questions from families.

At 10.58am the Canadian soldier George Price died near Mons. This was also at the location where the first British soldiers died in 1914.

The last Belgian military was probably Marcel Terfve. At 10.42am he was hit in the chest, dying 3 minutes later.

The American soldier Henry Gunther of the 31stInfantry Regiment was with his unit in an attack at Romagne in the Argonnen that morning. According to general William Nicholson they must keep the attack going until exactly 11am. At 10.55am private Gunther leads his platoon. At 10.59am Henry Gunther falls… one minute later, November 11th, 11am all guns stop…