Fasser Collection: Belgian Waterfront & Port of Zeebrugge

UPDATES –  28th November 2018

Redditor MrFingersEU has identified the photographs in this collection as being from the Port of Zeebrugge, specifically what is now known as Vismijnstraat, the site of a failed 1918 British raid which attempted to shut down a major shipping route. Since Brugge was under the control of Germany from 1914-1918, Fasser could not have taken these during the War – meaning that these were either taken after the war, or were taken by Germans during the occupation. Unless Fasser made a return trip to survey the aftermath, these – and by extension most of Fasser’s “Belgium” images, amounting to nearly 100 – were not taken by Fasser. MrFingersEU adds: “Given the scale of the destruction, the semi-demolished Thetis, the ‘Brussels’ and that the soldiers in the first picture are wearing Belgian helmets, the photo’s were taken well after April 23rd 1918. I’d date them from after the Armistice, probably spring/summer 1919.” They’ve also provided information on the photos, which have been captioned and attributed accordingly.

Furthermore, reader Ivan Verkempinck has commented on the final stereoview: “This shot was taken in my home town, Ostend. (camera geo-located in Google Maps at https://goo.gl/maps/5aknyU6Js122) Distance between locations of first and last pictures is no more than 24 km./15 miles.” This of course changes nothing in terms of Fasser, but at least we now know where all of the photos were taken! Thanks, Ivan!

Original Article

We’ve examined a number of works by A. O. Fasser during this blog’s Month of Remembrance series; this will be the penultimate essay during November, but fear not – there’s a lot more of Fasser’s work to scan, analyze, and look at in the months and years to come. But I wanted to highlight this particular subset of a collection of 49 slides which came twine-bound and labeled “Belgium” because it in turn highlights one aspect of the Great War which has not been covered yet in this series, and that’s the maritime dimension.

The First World War was not as notable for its naval battles as was the Second, but that does not mean that the sea did not play an integral part in the conflict. The “Race to the Sea”, an integral part of the Schlieffen Plan, would take the ports of Belgium and cut off vital supply lines, as well as providing a Northern route by which to threaten Paris. Crippling supply lines was an integral part of the Schlieffen Plan, as were U-boat attacks on supply ships – notably including the Lusitania. The Plan failed, of course, but German boats attacked the ports heavily, and some of that damage can be seen in some of Fasser’s stereo photographs from Belgium.

A lot of these the plates which bear these images are, sadly, in quite poor condition. This particular bundle seems to have been subjected to even more jostling, water damage, and general mistreatment over the years than the first and second boxed collections from Belgium. Nevertheless, the images, and picture which they paint, are quite fascinating and well-worth viewing, warts and all. I wish there were some method by which to replicate, for the readers of this blog, the qualities of viewing these through a proper scope. This would make it much easier to see past the imperfections. As no such method exists, however, I’ll provide the stereo pairs & anaglyphs as I typically do.

With the exception of the final image, these were all likely taken on the same day – the weather conditions are similar, they were grouped together, and many of the same subjects can be seen at various distances in different slides. If anybody recognizes this fortification, the surrounding areas, anything really – please do leave a comment at the bottom of this post, or use the contact form to reach me directly! And now for some images:


Soldiers pose near a large gun defending the shore, while in the background other soldiers go about their business. This appears, from scene in the far distance, to be a coastal fortification defending a port or inlet of some sort. MrFingersEU has identified the location: “First picture: artillery battery at what is now the Vismijnstraat.”

I’d like to make note of the artifact in the top-left corner of the right panel of the above slide – this artifact occurs in numerous slides included with Fasser’s work, and is indicative of something like a small bit of string hanging loose in the camera. As discussed, the collection might include some photos not taken by Fasser himself – but these I would posit are an all-or-nothing lot – either every shot with what I’ve deemed in my research notes as the “characteristic hook” was taken by Fasser, or every shot with it was not. I tend to suspect the former, since the compositions of the “hook” shots tend to consistently occur in Fasser’s work, hook or no, but that’s merely a supposition until I find corresponding negatives with the hook. Moving on…

A view from the beach to a coastal fortification with many large guns similar to that pictured in the first image. Note the lighthouse in the distance to the right. MrFingersEU: “Second picture: inner curve of the mole, taken from the sanded inside of the harbour entrance, at low tide.”
Another large gun, this one pointing straight out to sea – clearly there is no beach below on this side. Note the half-sunk boat in the distant water, as well as the lighthouse in the distance – it appears very similar to the lighthouse in the above slide. MrFingersEu: “Third picture: Coastal defense gun from the battery mounted on the tip of the mole. The semi-sunk ship (the ship was called “Brussels”, from Captain Fryatt) in the background has been deliberately sunk there when the Germans retreated in October 1918. It’s located where the Germans did scuttle some ships to partially close the dredged canal to prevent unauthorised access”.
This certainly looks an awful lot like the half-sunk boat pictured above, meaning that in the above slide, we are quite a good distance away from the shoreline. MrFingersEU: “[A]forementioned sunk ship ‘Brussels’.”
Right at the waterfront on what seems to be a pier, with a fence (mostly) blocking access to what might be a main military base, bollards along the side for mooring ships, and in the distance, that half-sunk ship again to the right – and a fortification to the left, tying the above two slides together. A better cartographer than I might be able to reconstruct a partial map of the base from slides like these! MrFingersEU:  “[A]forementioned sunk ship ‘Brussels’.”
Presumably somewhere nearby, the huge shells needed to power the big guns are stacked against a retaining wall, very probably in an inset area making them harder targets. MrFingersEU: “[P]robably the inner harbour.”
This looks a lot like another part of the pier area from two slides up – which as we know is far out to sea – perhaps this is closer to land? In any case, the rail lines are consistent. To the left, some badly damaged buildings; in the far distance, possibly some ships masts? MrFingersEU: “Seventh picture: demolished warehouses on the mole, probably what is left of the no 2 & 3 hangars that were located there.”
Somewhere else along a seawall, very possibly the same one as in several scenes above. This one shows warehouses off to the left, as well as a medium-sized loading crane, bollards, and a transition along the rail lines from wooden planking to brickwork (the latter is scene in the above two slides). MrFingersEU: “Eighth picture: demolished crane located around the seaplane base (base of the mole).”
A seemingly unconnected beach scene, but note the lighthouse in the far distance. MrFingersEU: “Ninth picture: left breakwater of the actual harbour entrance. The ship you see in the back is the scuttled (and by then semi-demolished) HMS Thetis (1890 Apollo Class armoured cruiser).”

This final shot is likely unconnected from the rest, due to its subject matter, but it’s still relevant as it is a waterfront shot of a kind:

A number of small sailing vessels in Ostend – taken from here.

This string-bound Belgium bundle contained numerous other sorts of scenes, as well as at least one commercial slide – but these seemed to form a somewhat cohesive set (at least, the first nine did), and seem to evidence the fact that Fasser spent a day (or, at the least, a part of a day) at a coastal base in Belgium, exposing dry plates with a stereographic camera. Since I’ve not yet been able to dig up much of any concrete information on his time in France, I’ve no clue whether he had days off, breaks, etc – one would think such things would be necessary to keep fatigue at bay – or whether these might have been taken near the time that he sailed out. In any case, it is interesting to see what he saw at the Belgian waterfront, a little over a century ago.

As always, all of Fasser’s photographs are courtesy of the Boyd-Jordan collection.


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