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1000 francs for the Battle of the Yser

The Belgian banknote has always been the nation’s ambassador. At its very beginning national allegories decorated the note, later on they were replaced by royals and only the latter series made room for Belgian historical or cultural figures. By doing so the iconographic field became much larger for the latter series.

1000 francs, Centenary Series, obverse

1000 francs, Centenary Series, obverse

The Centenary Series

The Centenary series was brought into circulation to commemorate the National Bank’s foundation in 1850 and it also introduced the first non-royals on the reverses of Belgian notes of the National Bank of Belgium. Likewise on the previous series (Dynasty series), the royals Leopold I, Leopold II and Albert I decorate the obverses of the 100, 500 and 1000 francs whereas the reverses are attributed to events or figures illustrating the kings’ reigns. Hubert Frère-Orban, minister of Finance and founding father of the National Bank of Belgium, commemorates the foundation of the Belgian central bank (100 francs), The study ‘Four negro heads’ of the famous Flemish baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens, represents the colonization of Congo (500 francs). The lock keeper Hendrik Geeraert who flooded the plain of the Yser river, evokes the First World War (1000 francs).

1000 francs, Centenary Series, reverse

1000 francs, Centenary Series, reverse

The 1000 francs note

King Albert I in civilian outfit is represented on the left part of the note. On his left shoulder the number of the note can be read. The middle part of the note of which the background is decorated with the heraldic lion is reserved for a whole series of mentions, such as the issuer’s name, the value in wording, the mention payables à vue (or paid to the bearer), the issuing date, the signatures of the Bank’s governor and its treasurer and article 173 of the penal code: Le contrefacteur est puni des travaux forcés (the forger will be punished with convict labour). The King’s portrait, the heraldic lion and the mentions are represented in a greyish rectangular. The white strip on the right of the note hosts the effigy of King Leopold I as watermark, the serial number as well as the value, printed in red ink in the upper corner and on a background of a guilloches pattern in the lower corner. The watermark strip on the reverse represents, apart from the watermark, the value of the note as well as the warning against forgery in Dutch. Within a rectangular frame the bust of Hendrik Geeraert is reproduced in front of the Newport locks. The mentions represented on the obverse in French are copied on the reverse in Dutch.

The Battle of the Yser

Medal in honour of the holder of the Carte feu/Vuurkaart

Medal in honour of the holder of the Carte feu/Vuurkaart

Between October 18 and October 31, 1914 the German army that wanted to cross the Yser in order to move forward to Dunkirk confronted the armies of France, England and Belgium. This confrontation came to be known as the Battle of the Yser. Under royal command of King Albert I the Belgian forces tried to make a stand along a front on the Yser Canal. After several unsuccessful attacks by Belgian outposts in Newport and Diksmuide the Germans concentrated their troops at the centre of the front. October 22 they managed to establish a small bridgehead at Tervaete and to pass on to the other side of the river. A few days later, October 25, the Allied Forces retreated behind the banks of the Diksmuide-Newport railway. As the bridgeheads of Diksmuide and Newport became more and more difficult to defend the King approved the idea to flood the low country in between the Yser and the railway. October 30, the Germans arrive at the railway banks before being forced to retreat. November 1, thanks to the flooding of the plain, no single German survived west of the river.

The paternity of the flooding

At the outset of the Yser front, commander Nuyten discussed a possible flooding with skipper Hendrik Geeraert. A first inundation took place the evening of October 21. This operation was successfully carried out by the skipper north of Newport. October 25, the commander is charged to study the feasibility of a further inundation of the Belgian front. In the absence of civil engineers he contacts Karel Cogge, a civil servant responsible for the guarding of the dykes. During the night military engineers manipulate the waterworks under the railway banks and build a circular dyke between the Veurne canal and the railway. Cogge opened the floodgates of the Veurne sluice during the high tides of October 27 and 28. But the result was unsatisfactory. The same night Geeraert proposes to slide open the large spillway of the Noordvaart but as this over fall was situated before the frontlines it was considered too risky. October 29, the floodgates of the Veurne sluice are opened a third time, but once again without the result one hoped for. Despite all the risks, it is decided to open the spillway of the Noordvaart. Geeraert takes on the job and he repeats this task the next day and the day afterwards. November 1, the complete lowlands are flooded and the Germans pulled back on the other side of the Yser.

Pay tribute

Cogge and Geeraert receive, amongst others, the medal of the Order of Leopold and both are buried as national heroes. Moreover, Veurne commemorates Karel Cogge by naming one of its avenues after him and the town also erects a bronze bust of the guardian of the dykes (Noordstraat). Furthermore, the square behind the Newport town hall is named after Geeraert and is decorated with his bust. Also the Army Museum pays tribute to them: a plaque for Cogge and a bust for Geeraert. The Albert I Monument, an equestrian statue of the Knightly King erected in 1938 in Newport, commemorates all victims of the Great War. In the neighbourhood of the locks the Yser Memorial is put up. The statue represents a woman safeguarding the Belgian crown. And finally, in 1950, the 1000 francs note with the portraits of King Albert I and Hendrik Geeraert are put into circulation.

Valérie Pede
Museum guide

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