A Walk to Wervicq-Sud German Military Cemetery Part Two

Hello again!

If you haven’t read Part One, well, what can I tell you.

Read it.  Otherwise, let’s continue.

We were about to leave the elevated section of the cemetery,…

…and make our way down to Plot 4, in the foreground here.

We saw two cemetery plans last post, neither exactly showing the cemetery as it is now.  Here’s a third, dated 1929, as was one of the others, and marked as ‘définitif’, as was one of the others, although this version does appear to be closest to what we see today.  In 1926 agreement was reached with French military authorities with regard to the permanency of the German military cemeteries on French soil, after which landscaping and proper construction work could begin.  We have covered this in detail elsewhere on this site, but suffice to say that crosses would not be placed here as permanent grave markers until the 1970s, which might explain some of the crosses here that have minimum details about the soldiers buried beneath; it may be that some of the wooden crosses were simply no longer totally legible.  Equally likely, of course, details may well have been lost during the reburial process.

Looking down the centre of the cemetery towards the entrance in the distance, Plot 3 on the right (see Part One) and Plot 4 on our immediate left (below).

Once upon a time, a German trench, heavily protected by barbed wire, crossed the site of the cemetery…

…somewhere roughly around here.

The burials at the top of Plot 4 are from May 1916,…

…and in the second row,…

…a private memorial or headstone, the only one in the cemetery.

One might presume that Unteroffizier (a corporal, if you remember) Julius Nottebohm was a popular bloke with his peers, or his men, this memorial presumably placed over his grave in the original cemetery, and moved here, along with his remains, when the bodies were disinterred.

He was killed on 21st May 1916, according to the inscription, at St. Eloi.  The adjacent cross bears his name, and that of another man who died on the same day.

The majority of the burials in the plot turn out to be from 1916, these from late spring and early summer,…

…mostly men killed in the fighting over the hills to the east of Ypres,…

…and these at the end of the row casualties from late August.

A few graves in the plot are from later years, and, further along the row, I spy something strange left at the base of one of the crosses, which in turn enables me to show you with clarity not only that many of these crosses, by far the majority, have names on both sides, but also how they are numbered.

So, two of the graves marked by this cross are those of a Jäger and a Gefreiter killed on 5th May 1918 and numbered, as you can see near the base of the cross, 4/95-96.

But don’t expect to necessarily find 93-94 or 97-98 on the other side.  It ain’t that easy.  The numbers on the base of the cross are this time 4/103-104; it all depends on how many crosses there are in each row and how many men are named on each of them, because every one with less than four names basically screws up the numbering for us visitors.  A bit harsh, perhaps, and anyway, we manage.  The other two men buried here, a Musketier and a Landsturmmann, died a year apart, one in May 1918, the other in June 1917.  And the strange object?  It can be seen in its natural habitat, although now extinct there, here.  More and more of these are appearing in cemeteries, both British & German, these days.  While we are here, note the stone foundation block – all eighty pounds of it – to keep the crosses stable.

Penultimate,…

…and final (numbering-wise, actually the first), row in the plot, the Jewish Gefreiter in the centre killed on 1st May 1916,…

…before we encounter Plot 2, these men once again Battle of the Lys casualties from April 1918,…

…as are these.

The majority of the burials in Plot 2, however, are from much earlier in the war,…

…as the tablets that we once again begin to encounter at this point show.  This first single tablet…

…names two men killed in December 1914,…

…as does the second.

Both these tablets are visible in this shot, the cross in the foreground bearing dates from August 1915 on this side, and if you look closely in the bright patch above the third cross in the front row, more tablets can just be seen,…

…these men killed at the end of 1915,…

…but the majority of the men buried beneath these tablets are casualties of First Ypres.

Unlike Plot 1, some of the rows of crosses between the tablets here in Plot 2 have names on them, most with two on either side, these men killed in the summer of 1915.

The tablets continue with casualties from mid-November 1914,…

…and the crosses continue with early September 1915 casualties, that on the right, with just a single name on this side, sporting another knitted poppy, the third we have seen in this cemetery.

Some of the final tablets – there are nowhere near as many in Plot 2 as we saw in Plot 1.  Those on the left, the final row of tablets, we shall see shortly, but that on its own on the right,…

…made up of seven panels and marking the burial place of one unknown and twenty six identified men, is the largest of the mass graves to be found here.

The panels on the left (above) and centre (below, left panel only) are all from November 1914,…

…those on the right from both October & November.  Someone on the Great War Forum, I think, established that Unteroffizier Siegmund Marzi & Infanterist Michael Widhopf, both killed near Ypres, were from 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment, which just happened to be Adolf Hitler’s regiment, too.

The final row of tablets can be found between the fifth and sixth rows of crosses (the seven-panel tablet we just saw now in the far left background), the Jewish headstone and adjacent crosses in the foreground…

…all September 1915 casualties,…

…although these crosses in Row 6, beyond the tablet, are blank on the reverse .  The names on the cross in the foreground in Row 5 are of men killed in August 1917 & December 1916, those on the tablet…

…from December 1914 & January 1915.

Continuing along the row,…

…the remaining dates are all either December…

…or November 1914 (above & folllowing).

I think it hardly surprising that most of the mass graves, both in Plot 1 as well as here in Plot 2, are from early in the war.

Put bluntly, these bodies had been in the ground the longest before disinterment, and it may be that they were originally buried together in small mass graves anyway.

Twenty one men lie beneath this penultimate six-panel tablet, near the end of the row,…

…all killed in November 1914 (above & below),…

…this the second-largest mass grave in the cemetery.

And the row ends with this three-panel tablet, the final one, of the sixty in total, that we have yet to see.

Once again, the men named here are all casualties from early November 1914, and the First Battle of Ypres.

With the final row of tablets between rows five and six, the final rows of crosses in Plot 2 seem to contain burials from different years with no particular pattern; those beneath the cross nearest us in Row 4 are from March 1918.

Row 2 on the left, and if you look in the background you will notice that, after the first eight crosses, the remainder are set back somewhat from the rest of the row,…

…and when we get there, we find graves from June 1915 at this end,…

…and nearest the camera, the final rank we have yet to come across in this cemetery, a Musiker – a bandsman.

The row continues with men killed in October & November 1914,…

…and at least one man, although there is no information about him other than his name, from 1918.

If you check the cemetery plans I have shown you in this and the previous post, you will notice that all three feature a building of some sort in this corner of the cemetery where now we see graves; what chance that these are the graves of the prisoners-of-war who were moved here in the 1950s from communal cemeteries in Normandy, as mentioned way back at the start of Part One (the other likely site being up on the elevated section, where the cemetery plan shows trees or bushes where today there are graves)?

Plot 2 seen from the cemetery’s southern corner,…

…and panning left along the front row,…

…two men who died in January 1918 on the left here, and two in November & August 1917 on the right, only one of whose rank is known.

Likewise here, three men killed in July and one in September 1917, the two men on the right-hand cross again given no rank.

Finally, back at the entrance,…

…let’s check the cemetery register before we leave.

Or maybe not, but at least we can be tidy.  Bottled water.  Now there’s a scam.  All of which might seem to cover this particular cemetery fairly adequately, but we know that the burials here are all concentrations, so what about the original cemetery which, as we know, was not so far from here?

This photograph shows German troops visiting their fallen comrades at the original burial ground, greeted by this impressive memorial at the entrance, but where exactly was it, and is there any trace left today?

Well, here’s a map from September 1918 showing the site of the current cemetery in deep red, and lo and behold, the original cemetery is actually marked, and shaded by me in light blue, within the park, with a red dot where I suspect the entrance memorial would have been placed, on the high ground above the burials.  Elsewhere on the map, when compared to the April 1917 one we looked at last post, what is immediately striking is the increase in defensive constructions, in particular the wire entanglements protecting the two trench lines – one of which cuts right through the site of the cemetery, as I mentioned earlier – as well as those on the far right of the map.  Note also the extensive light railway system running down and along the hillside to supply these trenches.  And there’s a small dark blue square too, near the original cemetery,…

…which shows the position of this building, Charles Derville’s very own castle, as he liked to think of it.  Derville was a French textile industrialist who owned this land prior to the Great War and had been building his castle since 1910 when the Germans came knocking and promptly confiscated it.  For nearly four years this was the site of Field Hospital No. 9, referred to by the Germans as the White Castle – even Hitler – him again – was treated here overnight for gas injuries before the German withdrawal in October 1918*.  And where there are hospitals, there are cemeteries, this hospital’s burial ground, and the original burial place of most of the men now in Wervicq-Sud German Military Cemetery, to the right of the house in this photograph, where the trees now grow.

*Hitler was blinded on the night of 13th-14th October 1918, on these hills south of Wervicq-Sud, by a British gas attack, spending the night in this very building before being sent back to Germany in a hospital train; with supreme irony, Max Beckmann, the expressionist painter whom Hitler would later expel from Germany, was working as a nurse at the hospital at the time.  I wonder…?

By the end of the war, nearly 2,500 Germans had found a final resting place in these grounds.  Except it wasn’t to be their final resting place.  The property was bought by one Alphonse Dalle in 1919 – Charles Derville probably deciding, on the balance of things, that he’d prefer not to live in a castle with a graveyard in its garden – and it seems that before long, well, to translate loosely from the earlier information board outside the cemetery, ‘surrounding the house, a necropolis of nearly 3000 graves of German soldiers, from which sometimes wisps escape…’.  In due course, Dalle would come to an agreement with the French authorities to move the graves further from the house, although still on his land, and in May 1921 the bodies were exhumed and reburied in the current cemetery, five hundred yards to the south.  Twenty three British soldiers, all captured either during First Ypres in November 1914, or the Battle of the Lys in 1918, who had died of their wounds at the hospital in captivity, were also moved and reinterred, five in Rue-Petillon Military Cemetery and eighteen in Messines Ridge British Cemetery, although it is unclear if they were actually briefly moved to Wervicq-Sud German Military Cemetery first.

Another view, the cemetery site once again on the right, as we skirt the property,…

…and head for the woods, because you never know what we might find in there.

Actually, I know exactly what we are going to find in here (I have included the interesting bits on this French information board in my text, never fear).

Would you believe it!  No, not the French dogs,…

…but the memorial!  And the reason, if you look up in the treetops in this and the following photos, why I heard shrieking kids all that time ago in Part One.

The truth of the matter is that when I visited the cemetery, which was a separate trip, I had no idea about the memorial whatsoever, and it was only when researching post-trip that I found myself in these woods – on Google maps.

Hence the need to return to Wervicq-Sud, not to revisit the cemetery, but to find the memorial.

Designed by prominent German architect Professor Wilhelm Kreis,…

…whose mark can be found on the back of the memorial, if you look carefully,…

…and inaugurated on Christmas day 1915, it is nearly thirty feet tall, the tablet on the front…

…featuring a nurse comforting a dying German soldier, a Kriegsfreiwilliger, perhaps, along with appropriate Fatherland text.

I have no idea what the whole thing actually weighs,…

…although the top bit alone touches nine tons,…

…and it quite clearly is not where I have marked it with the red dot on the earlier map.

So what on earth is it doing here, and how did it get here?

First constructed, entirely by hand, by German soldiers,…

…the memorial survived in its original position throughout the inter-war years, long after the burials had been removed, and was even given a bit of a make-over during the occupation in the Second World War.  However time and slippage – the memorial was indeed built on the slope above the cemetery – eventually led to the whole thing collapsing, and it was not until the summers of 1983 & 1984 that once again German soldiers, with equipment supplied by the French military as a sign of Franco-German reconciliation, reconstructed it stone by stone in its current location (inset above), presumably on solid ground so that it will not collapse a second time.

Very few German Great War memorials still exist on French soil, which is why it was quite something to find this one still here, tucked away in the trees, and impossible, I would think, to photograph properly at other times of the year.

Because unless you stumbled across the information board (which we didn’t, finding the memorial first), you’d probably never spot it with the trees in full leaf.  Anyway, I was staggered when I discovered that it still exists, and I think even Baldrick was suitably impressed when we found it.

As we leave, and we really are leaving, here’s a rough idea of where the cemetery was once sited, beyond the house, with the memorial at the top (its current site is marked by the yellow dot on the trench map).

And here, maybe,…

…because I will use any decent excuse to delve into the postcard collection,…

…are some of the young volunteers and recruits who once lay there.

To finish, a few shots showing the return journey from my visit to the cemetery, as opposed to the memorial.

Nearing the outskirts of Wervicq-Sud clouds had begun rolling in from the west, and if you’re used to Flanders weather, you know what’s coming.

So it won’t surprise you to know that, a mile later, as we find ourselves once again crossing the river,…

…back into Belgium,…

…the chances of getting home – Baldrick’s gaff – without a soaking were diminishing rapidly.  Nonetheless, mission accomplished.  And anyway, do I ever, ever, wander Flanders’ Fields without waterproofs in the rucksack?  Do I fu…………

This entry was posted in German Military Cemeteries, Postcards, Wervik & Wervicq-Sud. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to A Walk to Wervicq-Sud German Military Cemetery Part Two

  1. Morag Sutherland says:

    Amazing . That is some memorial. There was a book produced?? An exhibition on German memorials a few years ago In Flanders Fields museum. I didn’t buy the book!! O wonder if it featured though…..

  2. Daisy in Indonesia says:

    I figure few people will visit this cemetery but nobody will go to the memorial. What an incredible find… very interesting double post, learnt so much. Amazing what you can find some days just by poking your nose into some place…
    One thing I did notice was the Jewish headstones had no stones atop. Many of the cemeteries I have visited have stones on top of the headstone. I once asked a Jewish visitor at a WW1 cemetery in France why they did this and he said it was to keep their souls in but more importantly the next Jewish person would see somebody, Jewish or otherwise, had been there and remembered this person, or at least had shown respect for the person. I’m definitely not Jewish but I always put a stone on top of the headstone. Just to respect the memory of the unfortunate casualty of war. Perhaps Jewish people wouldn’t visit a German War Graves cemetery… more likely explanation methinks.
    Anyway, love your post and somehow I wish therewas Part Three…
    Daisy

    • Magicfingers says:

      I am so glad this two-parter has gone down well – I really was afraid it would be too much, but hundreds of people have looked at Part One now, so presumably it’s okay! Afa Jewish headstones are concerned, I often leave a stone too – people think that only Jewish people are ‘entitled’ to do so, but as you rightly say, anyone can, and I am glad to hear you do so too. Having said that, I was a bit busy on my visit to Wervicq-Sud!!
      No Part Three, but there is another German cemetery only a mile or so east of here, and I think we shall take a look around that cemetery in a somewhat different way………………………….

  3. Joseph Orgar says:

    Thanks again for your wonderful work.

    Joe

  4. Nick Kilner says:

    Tremendous! though I must confess to being a little disappointed that the tower in the woods didn’t turn out to be the top of a ventilation shaft. I had high hopes for that lol. A really great article, very interesting indeed.
    Cracking postcards too! always nice to see.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Glad you enjoyed, and no, no ventilation shaft, but I have discovered that there is even more to see in those woods for another visit (fill in the missing letters: b_n_e_s). And postcards? More soon, actually. Well, depending on whether chez moi survives the next 24 hours………………………

      • Nick Kilner says:

        Hope you’ve got your flood defences in place! Ever thought about buying a row boat?
        _u_k_r_ sounds very interesting indeed! Look forward to hearing more on that as well as seeing more of your amazing postcard collection

  5. Morag Sutherland says:

    I see you are still in red warning area. I hope high tide is not too high….all your followers are anxious about you I am sure

    • Magicfingers says:

      We are bailing! Water is very high around our little house, but we shall see what the rest of the night brings.

      • Daisy in Indonesia says:

        Hey Magicfingers,

        Not sure exactly the predicament you are in but it sounds nasty… stay dry and safe. Good luck with situation and hopefully all’s well which ends well…

        Daisy

    • Magicfingers says:

      It is 6.25 am and I do believe we have survived intact – apart from the back and the arms – eight and a half hours pretty much constant bailing……….

      • Baldrick says:

        As much as your stays here in Belgium seem to invariably have miraculously positive effects on the local weather conditions, that does not appear to be the case back over in Blighty, unfortunately… Am relieved to hear you came out safe and dry! Best regards to the Missus 🙂

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