Echoes Of War

2 comments July 11th, 2007at 11:53am Posted by Eli

World War I is the gift that just keeps on giving…

YPRES, Belgium (AP) — The summer plowing season in Flanders Fields is a good time for Ivan Sinnaeve.

Known as ”Shrapnel Charlie,” he keeps alive memories of one of history’s bloodiest battles by melting down the World War I shells harvested by farmers and transforming them into toy soldiers which he calls ”soldiers of peace.”

The 54-year-old Belgian history buff has a huge following among war pilgrims visiting Flanders Fields, the battleground of 1914-1918.

Sinnaeve, a retired carpenter, is busier than usual this year, the 90th anniversary of the phase of fighting called the Battle of Passchendaele which saw some of the war’s worst trench warfare and its first use of mustard gas.

A half-million Britons, Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians and Germans were killed or wounded, fighting among villages and farms over five miles of muddy Belgian terrain. Drawn out over five months from June to October of 1917, Passchendaele became a symbol of senseless killing.


He was commissioned by local and Scottish organizers to make the six-inch tall Scottish Black Watch Regiment figurines from shells found in fields where the regiment fought.

He said he always asks the farmers where they found the metal they bring to him, ”so I know which regiments were involved.” He thinks some of the iron may be from the shells fired at the regiments he is now commemorating as ”soldiers of peace.”


Few battlefields in the world still yield so many bombs, guns and bones — 200 tons a year around Ypres….

”You never know what my husband brings home; you can bet it’s not a bunch of flowers,” farmer Charlotte Cardoen-Descamps says, chuckling as she shows a fresh crop of shells, gas shells, grenades, and an unexploded basketball-size aerial bomb her husband Dirk plowed up.

Farmers have to use extra care, because some shells still leak toxic gases. However explosions are rare because the farmers have become experienced at handling the iron harvest.

”We got 17 pieces this plowing season, but we can expect even more later this year,” said Cardoen-Descamps. The ammunition is neatly stacked around the farmyard ready to be collected by bomb disposal experts.

”The nasty shells for us are the gas shells of course, because we can’t identify those anymore,” she said. ”The color code which gave away the content has rusted away, so if we shake it gently and we hear something slushing around — well, be careful.”


In Sinnaeve’s cramped townhouse, the living room, dining room and kitchen are littered with model soldiers, molds and tiny paint cans.

He has been making his models for 14 years, and says he earns no profit, happy just to know that ”I have soldiers all over the world.”

He got his nickname, Shrapnel Charlie, from a Canadian visitor who couldn’t pronounce his surname.

He makes nearly 2,000 soldiers a year, German and Allied, and is almost halfway to his goal of 55,000 — the number of missing on the famed Menen Gate memorial in Ypres.

Piet Chielens, head of the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres, said the region is ”like the laboratory of war.”

”It was all out war, for the first time in its most absurd form,” he said. ”There was no real reason for doing this and there was no real strategy.”

Hopefully the iron harvest in Iraq won’t be as fruitful 90 years from now.

Entry Filed under: Art/Architecture,Coolness,War


  • 1. ellroon  |  July 11th, 2007 at 3:15 pm

    I have a decorated shell casing from Verdun that my grandfather had. I wonder if the shell fired killed anyone.

    You would think we would have learned our lesson from WWI, but we keep doing the same shit over and over again. Will we ever learn?

  • 2. Shane  |  March 14th, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    Too many lives was lost, too many families grieved, that was yesterday but the pain, the scars, the effects on future generations still the same…while today more and more lives are being wasted, lost, all because the god/s of this world continues to kill, to steal, and to destroy people. But let us not loose hope because God with His saving grace are able to redeem us from the powers of sin and death.

    Those looking for some historical trips in Ypres/Ieper, Belgium choose a perfect base where you can just walk or ride a bicycle going to WWI sites. This perfect base is Ambrosia hotel ieper situated within 300m from the Cloth Hall and the Menin Gate at Ypres. In spite of its strategic spot, it is very quiet. Its new design makes it into a cosy and homely place. Every room is unique. Among other hotels Ieper Ambrosia hotel is the perfect base for World War I sites.

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