At the far north western end of Pont-de-Nieppe Communal Cemetery, beneath the willow trees, 790 German Great War casualties are buried in one of a number of small German cemeteries to be found in this part of French Flanders.
We shall visit a couple of the others later in this tour. Meanwhile, this is the cemetery entrance (above & below).
I used to be under the impression that there were only a few German cemeteries in France, that the smaller German cemeteries had all been concentrated into the larger ones.
How wrong I was; there are at least 250 German military cemeteries in France (so I shall never get to see all of them, either).
Inside the entrance a simple tablet gives us the bare bones.
There is a single Jewish grave (above & below) in the cemetery, near the entrance. The history of the 20th Century is at times so monstrous that one wonders his eventual fate had he survived.
Like the British during the previous three years,…
…the Germans used Nieppe Communal Cemetery to bury their dead while the area was in their hands in the late spring and summer of 1918.
After the war, in 1920, the French authorities moved all the German graves from the communal cemetery to this new plot at the far western end of the cemetery.
Metal crosses, many with a name on either side, mark the graves of the dead, explaining why the rows of crosses are spaced much wider apart than the headstones in British cemeteries; there is at least one man buried on either side of each cross.
All of the men buried here were killed between April & September 1918…
…except for three, who were captured during the early battles in 1914, and who died in captivity, presumably of their wounds.
Just twenty one of the burials here are unidentified.
There are men buried here whose home garrisons were located in Silesia, Posen,…
…West Prussia, Bavaria & Brandenburg.
As long ago as 1872, and the signing of the Treaty of Frankfurt, warring nations have had responsibility for maintaining military burial grounds on their territory.
This agreement was reaffirmed in the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, and, notwithstanding the fact that both the British and the Americans soon obtained the right to manage their own cemeteries, for decades after the war it was the responsibility of the French to maintain the German military graves on their land.
You might not have realised this, or even considered it,…
…but during the early 1920s it was the French who created these German cemeteries, donating the land to be used and exhuming the bodies, both battlefield burials and from the German created cemeteries and French communal cemeteries that the Germans had used. One wonders the mindset of the French workforce towards the dead invaders, although from what I can find out, there is little evidence of the mistreatment of German dead during the clearance of the battlefields.
Another of the unidentified burials.
Although a Franco-German agreement of 1926 allowed the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge (German War Graves Commission) to begin improving the German cemeteries in France, financial difficulties in Germany in the 1920s and early 1930s, and then the looming madness of the Second World War, left the problem of permanent markers for the graves unresolved.
It was not until 1966, and the signing of the German-French War Grave Agreement, that the Germans, with backing from their Federal Government, were able to begin final designs for their war cemeteries in France.
At Pont-de-Nieppe this included new access directly from the communal cemetery, and, in 1978, the replacement of the previous ‘temporary’ grave markers with permanent metal crosses bearing names and dates of death, each laid into a concrete base.
More unidentified soldiers, the third cross from the right bearing the words ‘Two Unknown German Soldiers’…
…and panning down the same row (above & below).
Which brings us to the end of our visit.
He’s had enough!
So I suggest we make tracks. Although we aren’t going far. Next stop, Nieppe Communal Cemetery, is but a stone’s throw away.
Update February 2017: An interesting find at Jack Thorpe’s museum in Erquinghem-Lys was the original German sign that once adorned the cemetery entrance.