The Mouth of a River

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At its mouth lies where one river enters another lake, a larger river, or the ocean. As rivers flow, they collect gravel, sand, silt, and clay–known collectively as alluvium–from their path and deposit it at their mouths.

Walleye fishermen frequently favor these calm areas near river mouths as prime fishing grounds.

The Yser River

One remarkable feat that came from water is particularly noteworthy in World War I: stopping Germany’s advance toward Calais and the English Channel coast in October 1914. At its height, water had covered an area known as the Yser – creating an expansive no-man’s land between German positions; one thousand men perished daily either through enemy fire or drowning in its murky depths.

The Yser River begins its journey as it emerges on the northern flanks of Monts Cassell and de Recollets, in the north of France, before traveling along its course through West Flanders province in Belgium to the sea at Nieuwpoort. Reclaimed land from its banks extends to Veurne and Ypres in the east, while the Nieuport-Dixmude railway line runs in its west. Six creeks and canals feed directly into its waters from surrounding polders, while sluice gates at Nieuwpoort control its depth.

A map of the Yser’s knobby arc resembles a rustic face, perhaps an allegory for van Gogh’s potato eaters, wholly focused northward with uncertain pugnacity. At its source near sluice gates, its peak gradually sloped downward into a low brow, while at the midpoint, its loop formed an incongruously bulbous nose, while its chin protruded at Dixmude.

During the early months of World War I, Belgian forces were restricted to this muddy crescent. Although Allied headquarters urged General Albert to fight the Germans along all of his frontlines, he made an exception for Yser, where trench digging would have been difficult due to swampy conditions; furthermore, deep positions were necessary against the siege guns of the enemy.

On September 30 and subsequent nights, water began flowing freely through Yser sluice gates from all directions. Engineering feat that achieved two essential objectives at once. First, an impregnable lagoon formed, which served as the dividing line between German and Allied territory during World War I. The victory that saved thousands of men, yet marked the last time Belgian soldiers would fight on that part of the western front, was won at Yser, but historians still only possess limited details on its operation and effectiveness.

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