The For Freedom Museum shows the bleak times of the Second World War in a dazzling, realistic way. No single inhabitant of the Zwin region and western Zeeland Flanders was spared hardship and repression between 1940 and 1944. This black period in our history forms the main theme of the museum.
The For Freedom Museum sheds light on the various facets of the Second World War more than many other museums. True-to-life dioramas (goggle-boxes) immerse you in the regional history from 10 May 1940 to 3 November 1944, the day that the thundering guns finally grew silent in the Zwin region.
The museum houses three impressive collections. Patrick Tierssoone and Freddy Jones, two old school friends with a passion for history, make available their unique collections of original vehicles and uniforms. The Belgian Aviation History Association (Bahaat), a recognised association of aviation archaeologists, is the third partner with an imposing exhibition of excavated aircraft remains.
The former local school of Ramskapelle with its town hall dating from 1876 was restored between 2005 and 2007. The layout and structure of the various scenes was entrusted to the artist Pierre Verbreyt, an authority in museum outfitting. He can already add fitting out two museums in Normandy to his record of achievements.
The town council of Knokke-Heist, the European government, the province of West Flanders, Tourism West Flanders, journalist Paul Jambers and the local population of Ramskapelle all pulled their weight in setting up the museum. This is how the former local school developed as the location for this quite extraordinary project.
Brothers Danny and Freddy Jones are the sons of the late Dennis Jones, a British Normandy veteran from Crewe, Cheshire (UK), who married a girl from Knokke-Heist in 1947. They had the history of the Second World War spoon-fed to them from very young. The military uniform that their father wore at his wedding was therefore the very first uniform in their collection.
Between 1984 and 1994, Patrick Tierssoone and the Jones brothers held three unique exhibitions in the Scharpoord Cultural Centre in Knokke-Heist.
The Canadian Liberation March, previously on 1 November, was the ideal starting point for strengthening ties with former combatants from across the Atlantic Ocean and for recording the tales of 1944 for all time.
Freddy Jones guided Canadian veterans in many buses throughout Zeeland Flanders and the Zwin region. Some marvellous contacts and friendships emerged from this.
Each display figure in the museum has a personal story. Many Canadian families donated the uniforms of their much-loved spouse or father to the project. ‘Send it to Belgium, to Fred Jones, one day he’s going to start a museum, to tell our story, why we came, why we bled and sacrificed our young lives!’ These were the words of many Canadian veterans who helped create the collection.
Trips were undertaken to far-off Canada together with the late Constant Devroe (author of ‘The last white flag’, among others), to interview commanding officers of the time and so fathom the history in even greater depth. Meanwhile, a feverish search was underway for a permanent home for the constantly growing collection. Fortunately, the population of Ramskapelle, mayor Graaf Leopold Lippens and late alderman Maxim Willems of Knokke-Heist were able to help, and the local school of Ramskapelle became the new exquisite niche for the For Freedom Museum. This museum fits in with the character of the authentic polder village that Ramskapelle is.
The vehicles of co-curator Patrick Tierssoone bear witness to the technological development and mass production during the Second World War.
The battle on land, at sea and in the air is shown extensively. His transport business brings him into daily contact with international collectors.
The For Freedom Museum is a growing museum. People quite regularly send us items, photos and letters full of anecdotes, and the library is also expanding slowly but surely. The people who went through it are the last generation still able to give testimony to it all.
This sorrowful phase from our local past must be passed on to our children and grandchildren, in the hope that such acts of war do not recur. Young people must know that freedom has a price. A price that our forebears paid in hard currency. We must cherish freedom. This important message of peace and tolerance is given daily in the For Freedom Museum.
Minister of National Defence, Pieter De Crem, Paul Breyne, governor of West Flanders, and Graaf Leopold Lippens, mayor of Knokke-Heist, opened the museum on 25 April 2009.
The attendance of former combatant, Canadian Adrien Boivin, who served in the Régiment de la Chaudière, did not go unnoticed. He captivated the audience with an animated account of being taken prisoner in Oostburg and of the liberation of Knokke on 1 November 1944.