1928 saw the start of the construction works for the 50 m high IJzer tower: the IJzer cross. Some of the original tombstones were saved and brought to the crypt of the first IJzer tower.
On the 24 August 1930, the year in which Belgium celebrated its centenary, the IJzer tower was inaugurated. Belgianist George Labrique flew his little airplane over the terrain of the Pilgrimage and threw out provocative pamflets, causing serious riots in the city of Diksmuide.
From 1930 on, Flemish war victims were buried in the crypt: Renaat De Rudder, Joe English, Frans and Edward Van Raemdonck, Frans Van der Linden, Firmin Deprez, Frans Kusters, Bert Willems, Juul De Winde. The Walloon soldier Amé Fiévez was buried here too, together in one coffin with the Van Raemdonck Brothers.
The crypt also contains a tombstone ‘For all who fell for Flanders’.
The ‘Kruis van Nieuwpoort’ (Nieuwpoort Cross) was saved although town and port were totally destroyed.
A stone commemorates the attempts by the ‘IJzerbedevaartcomité’ (committee of the IJzer Pilgrimage) and the VOS (Union of Flemish War Veterans) to avert World War II.
The bell ‘Nele’ was the big bell of the IJzer tower. It cracked during the explosion of the tower. The foundation stone, laid by Cyriel Verschaeve in 1928, had survived. The text of the huge white cross on top of the crypt “Hier liggen hun lijken als zaden in ‘t zand, hoop op de oogst o Vlaanderland” (Here lie their bodies like seeds in the sand, hoping for a harvest, o Flanders) is also written by this poet and curate from Alveringem.
The Merkem stone is an old sink stone from the destroyed front village. During a night operation of Flemish soldiers in World War I, demanding the application of the language laws, they wrote on the stone “Hier ons bloed, wanneer ons recht” (Here our blood, when do we get our rights).
On either side of the path from the crypt towards the new tower, the stone fragments in the new ‘Heldenhuldezerkjes’ represent the smashed tombstones.
After a first attempt in 1945, the IJzer Tower was completely destroyed in the night of 15 March 1946. An investigation followed, suspects were rounded up, but released due to lack of evidence. The Procurator-General of Gent was punished because he was said to have blocked the search for the offenders.
A sentence from a poem by Anton van Wilderode, engraved on a copper plate near the entrance of the Crypt, clearly condemns this outrage: “Op 16 maart 1946 werd deze toren vakkundig, efficiënt, naamloos en toch gekend gedynamiteerd en neergehaald” (On the 16th of March 1946, this tower was professionally, efficiently, anonimously, but yet known blown up and pulled down).
On the spot of the bomb attack, student unions and youth movements organized in 1946 a ‘youth pilgrimage for rehabilitation’.
After the damaging of the tombstones in 1918 and their destruction in 1925, this attack was called ‘the third desecration’.
Due to continuous infiltration of water, cracks and collapsing walls, the decision was taken – in consultation with Monumenten en Landschappen (The national service for the protection of monuments and landscapes) – to restore the Crypt.
On the 2nd of June 1997, during a short and serene ceremony, the coffins of the ‘IJzer symbols’ were taken to the chapel inside the Tower.
The restoration was quite drastic, but did not overlook tradition:
-The remainders of the first Tower are still almost completely visible.
-The Merkem stone, the Bell ‘Nele’, the first stone of the Tower, the namestones and the original doors are incorporated in the new crypt.
-The whole – under a cover of grass – forms a unity with the surrounding terrain.
-Via the Pax Gate – through the crypt – the visitors automatically reach the middle path.
On the 18th of August 2001 the coffins of the "IJzer symbols" were reburied in the Crypt of the first Tower.