Bousbecque German Military Cemetery

Rather like the cemetery at Wervicq-Sud, a mile and a half away to the west, Bousbecque German Military Cemetery is another that I have intended to visit now for many years. 

Four trench map extracts become one.  Wervicq-Sud & Bousbecque were a good couple of miles apart a hundred years ago; today maybe 750 yards separates the outskirts of each town.

Close-up of Bousbecque, the communal cemetery marked in pink, today beginning to wrap itself around the German military cemetery, marked in yellow.  The green circle will be explained later.

I have passed by on countless occasions, but always late at night heading to or from Lille with no opportunity to stop, and let’s be honest, although I quite like cemeteries at nighttime (I bet one or two of you do too, and who cares if the world thinks we’re weird), the resulting photos would hardly have made good viewing from a touring the cemetery point of view.

So, at long last, admittedly with a Lille journey on the horizon, but with plenty of time to spare, here is a tour of Bousbecque German Military Cemetery.  Well, a look around, more than a tour.

As usual, a tablet greets us on entering, informing us that 2,330 German soldiers are buried here; it so happens that, in this cemetery, all are buried in individual graves.

The Great Cross is somewhat different from the one we saw at Wervicq-Sud, and quite frankly…

…there appears to be no blueprint with regard to the design of the Great Crosses in German military cemeteries.  Not that there necessarily should be.

Up until the 1970s these would all have been wooden crosses,…

…but the replacements can be steel or stone, and seemingly to whatever configuration whoever was in charge of the redesign of the cemetery chose.

Anyway, this cross is very unlike any I have seen before.

Note the communal cemetery, by the way, in the background, and if you missed it, you can have a look at the war memorial and the French & British war graves within by clicking here.

Like Wervik & Wervicq-Sud,…

…Bousbecque was behind German lines for nearly the whole war,…

…but unlike the German military cemetery we recently visited at Wervicq-Sud, a wholly concentration cemetery, if you remember, the burials in this cemetery mainly took place at the time of these men’s death, and although a few hundred burials were brought here by French authorities in the 1920s, presumably from smaller German cemeteries, some 2000 men already lay here at the end of the war.

There are no stone tablets here, just rows and rows of metal crosses, finally erected in 1980 to replace the wooden crosses that would have replaced the original wooden crosses years before, and the occasional Jewish headstone, the rows running much the length, and in a couple of cases the width, of the cemetery.

Ancient cemetery plan; note the adjacent communal cemetery at the top.  This plan hardly shows the cemetery as it is today, though,…

…the main difference being, as can be seen in the photo above, that there is no sign of an entrance of any sort along the cemetery’s eastern boundary, as is marked on the plan.  The red square on the map marks the site of the Great Cross, and the reason for the blue circle will become clear later.

Side elevation.  It simply isn’t feasible, nor would it work, really, to look at this cemetery in the same way as we did the one at Wervicq-Sud, because that was a definite one-off,…

…so while we roughly follow the cemetery’s perimeter in a clockwise direction (with the usual occasional deviation), here leaving the Cross behind,…

…as we make our way through the crosses of Plot 1,…

…towards the north eastern corner,…

…I shall intersperse the cemetery photos,…

…with some more of these from the postcard collection; I don’t think I have published any of them before, and although I could remove the creases and mend the imperfections and idiosyncrasies, I have chosen not to on this occasion, showing them here with minimal enhancement.

October 1918 map showing the whole of the Allied front line from the Channel coast to the French border, our area of interest down at the bottom of the map, where Ypres, Wervicq-Sud, Bousbecque & Courtrai are marked in mauve, green, red and yellow respectively.

At 5.35 on the morning of 14th October 1918, amid a background of peace negotiations, the Battle of Courtrai (Kortrijk) began.  British gunners, realising that this might be their final hurrah of the war, laid down a devastating barrage of shrapnel, high explosive, smoke, gas and thermite on the German lines and rear areas, before, all along the front, from Dixmude to La Bassée (nearly twenty miles south of Comines and way off this map) the Germans surrendered ground as French, Belgian & British troops left their trenches and advanced across what was, for them, virgin territory.  By evening the Germans had fallen back to the River Lys, blowing the bridges as they retreated, but artillery on the hills south of the river (including the hills south of Wervicq-Sud, where the German military cemetery is now sited), were still causing the British serious problems in their attempts to cross.  During the night the British managed to seize a partly demolished bridge somewhere between Wervik & Bousbecque, pouring men across and establishing a bridgehead at Bousbecque which enabled the Royal Engineers to construct a pontoon bridge across the river.  The following morning more troops crossed and Bousbecque was cleared and occupied, a defensive line established on the southern and eastern outskirts. Notwithstanding German artillery ‘shelling every road and street and practically every likely billet for troops’, by the evening of the 15th October it had become apparent that the Germans were still retreating towards the River Scheldt, fifteen miles to the east, where they would make a final stand at the end of the month.

So armed with that information, and still heading towards the north eastern corner of the cemetery, on the far left here, a little background on the cemetery itself, and the crosses within it, and as we are in Plot 2, we shall use some of the crosses and a headstone in this plot as examples.  The burials pictured in the foreground above are all from September 1917, three of whom died on 25th, 26th & 27th; there was a serious German counterattack to the north of the Menin Road on 25th September, British & Australian troops taking two days, until 27th, to regain the lost ground south of Polygon Wood.

Although there are three men now buried in the cemetery who died in 1914, and some from 1915 & 1916 – the first burials were made here in July 1915 – you wouldn’t be far wrong to refer to it as a Third Ypres cemetery, well over half of the burials here men killed in the latter half of 1917, these men (above & below) killed in the days immediately before the battle began at the end of July.

Although some crosses have only a single name, one side (above left) being blank (or, if you prefer, one side (above) being left blank),…

…the majority mark two graves, with one name on each side.  All the crosses in the previous, above, and following photos mark the graves of Third Ypres casualties, and apart from the man on the right above, who died on 1st October, all died in the second half of September 1917.

Among them, I noticed a Schubert,…

…and, not far away, another Schubert.

When you get there, compare this soldier’s ill-fitting ersatz uniform with the smart young soldier in the final postcard of this post.

And here we have a Schumann, far left; if memory serves from checking the register, there’s a combined total of two string quartets and a power trio of Schuberts & Schumanns in the cemetery.

More September 1917 burials,…

…before we finally approach the north eastern corner,…

…from where this view looks south west…

…and this one south, which is the direction we shall now head, following the row of crosses…

…along the eastern boundary down to the far end of the cemetery.

This was not the only German military cemetery in Bousbecque.

Early in the war, Bousbecque East German Cemetery was created for casualties who died at a nearby German field hospital, and because four British soldiers who died as prisoners-of-war in November 1914, and who now lie in Messines Ridge British Cemetery, where a Duhallow Block remembers them, were once buried there,…

…logic suggests that German casualties from the first year of the war were buried at Bousbecque East before it was closed down and this cemetery was created.  Its location is marked on the earlier map by the green circle – hardly to the east of the town, mind you – and today there is no trace of it, modern housing covering the site.

You might think that the men buried in Bousbecque East would have been moved here after the war, especially as we know that a few hundred burials were indeed brought here, but none are from early in the war, so that cannot be the case.  They might now be found in the vast German cemetery at Menen (once Menin and the final destination of the Menin road), only four and a half miles north east of here, but that is across the border in Belgium, and I cannot imagine moving bodies across the border was likely post-war.  So where they now lie, I know not.

Looking north east from close to the position of the previous shot.  Before we continue along the eastern boundary towards the south east corner, let’s take a 360° spin.  From the Cross in the shot above,…

…now looking back towards the eastern boundary, where the cemetery plan shows the original cemetery entrance, the burials in the foreground from March 1918 (we will encounter Battle of the Lys casualties later),…

…and now south,…

…the road between Halluin and Comines beyond.

Continuing south west,…

…west,…

…and north west – what is that? – before, once again,…

…the Cross reappears, the communal cemetery behind.

At which point we need to head back towards the eastern boundary, past these February & March 1918 casualties,…

…to continue our walk south,…

…until we reach the south eastern corner,…

…from where these views (above & below) look west along the cemetery’s southern boundary, the graves nearest the camera from July 1917,…

…and, turning to our right, this view looks back up the length of the cemetery.

Many of the graves surrounding us in what is actually Plot 4…

…are Battle of the Lys casualties from April 1918 (above & two following).

I don’t know whether you know what the Hebrew text on a Jewish headstone means, but if you don’t, the abbreviation פ ‘ נּ, at the top, stands for po nikbar or po nitman, and means ‘here lies’, and the other abbreviation at the bottom, ת נ צ ב ‘ ה, is from the first book of Samuel, 25:29: ‘May his soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life’.

The first of two private memorials to be found here, this man in Plot 4 dying on 8th June 1917, the day following the explosion of the nineteen mines that signalled the start of the Battle of Messines.  Over the several seconds between the detonation of the first and last mines, the Germans are estimated to have lost some 10,000 men, many atomized instantly, many buried, many killed by debris and shock.  Messines is about eight miles due west of here, and there is little doubt that some of the recovered bodies are buried here,…

…along with many men wounded on 7th June who died in hospital the next day, and it may well be that Pionier Kurt Heinig was among them.

Had he been in a dugout in the vicinity of the mines when they were detonated, he would have had little chance.

Looking east along the southern boundary back the way we have come, the private memorial four rows back in the very centre of the picture,…

…and as we pan left,…

…among more Battle of the Lys casualties,…

…the cross of Musketier Josef Klimaschka, despite the eighty-pound base, tilts precariously; I have mentioned before – more than once – that many CWGC cemeteries have had trees removed in recent years, and have often wondered why.  Perhaps this is the reason.

More April 1918 casualties in Plot 4 in the front row; note that the crosses in the two following rows are blank on the side facing us,…

…and now, in Plot 5, a second private memorial, remembering a vizefeldwebel (sergeant) killed on 22nd April 1918, once again during the Battle of the Lys.

Looking north, Plot 3 on the left,…

…and as we follow the cemetery’s western boundary north, there’s a cross with a wreath we’ll take a look at shortly near the centre of the picture, and over by the boundary hedge,…

…the grave of a Jewish leutnant (second lieutenant) who died in August 1917.

Unusually for this cemetery, the cross with the wreath has two names on one side as opposed to one on each,…

…the reverse left blank, the men whose graves this cross marks killed in July & August 1917.

More summer 1917 casualties,…

…and more of these.

Much earlier we saw whatever that is from over on the other side the cemetery, and it happens to also be the blue circle marked on the earlier cemetery plan, so…

…passing casualties from March 1918 on the way,…

…let’s take a closer look.

Another German memorial erected in 1915, as was the one we recently saw in the woods at Wervicq-Sud, but this time not quite so grand,…

…I haven’t a clue what this says, but I probably get the gist.

Graves in the north west corner (above & below),…

…and the view looking back across the cemetery…

…from roughly the same place.

Which brings us back to the northern boundary and Plot 1, these men among those buried here who were killed in June 1917, during the Battle of Messines,…

…or during the days preceding the exploding of the mines on 7th June (above & below).

The two artillerymen buried nearest the camera were killed at the end of May and in early June 1917, at the time when British artillery would have been searching for their German counterparts prior to the opening of the battle on 7th June.

Looking west along the northern boundary towards the memorial,…

…these graves all from early summer 1917,…

…before we find ourselves once more back at the Great Cross, Bousbecque war memorial beyond the hedge on the left.

This final postcard shows a very smart, very young, German soldier posing for the camera, the screen behind and the props around him recreating a homely scene, his parents doubtless placing a copy on the mantlepiece as he marched off to war.  What horrors awaited him?  What was his fate?  Always the unanswered questions are the really scary ones.

We finish with a map showing the sites south of Wervicq-Sud and Bousbecque that we have visited over the last few posts. I will probably publish the updated pictures of Wervicq-Sud war memorial next, but after that, we shall be heading to pastures elsewhere, although exactly where that might be, your guess is currently as good as mine.

This entry was posted in Along the River Lys: Comines, Wervik, Geluwe & Menen, German Military Cemeteries, Postcards, Wervik & Wervicq-Sud. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Bousbecque German Military Cemetery

  1. Sid from Down Under says:

    Risking frivolity – the 1916 postcard brought back fond memories. It shows a soldier centre left holding a plain stein. During a visit to the infamous huge Munich Beer Hall in 1960 my mate and I managed to “souvenir” one of these each. Strict security but we noticed the old German door guard had a left eye twitch. Despite very honest locals whose table we shared and after several steins of beer, with loose jumpers and determination, we nicked past the door guard on his left side as his eye twitched shut. Ingenuity and supreme timing. Should eye send mein Stein back?

    • Magicfingers says:

      Lol! You’re a very bad man. What an example to set! I think when the Elgin Marbles are returned to Greece, you will have to do likewise……..

  2. Filip Jacques says:

    The little sculpture at the cross of Hermann Winkelmann may indicate that he died in Flanders. As one made a sculpture, one was given the identity of a person having died in Flanders during WWI. This sculpture could mean that someone found the grave and left the sculpture at the cross.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Thank you Filip. That is really useful to know, because I have come across at least ten of them in various cemeteries in recent times, and I like the idea that they might well be personal as opposed to random. Thank you.

  3. Nick Kilner says:

    wonderful postcards! I’m glad you chose not to ‘correct’ them, far better to display them as is, each with their own scars from history. The design of the second memorial is an interesting one, well they both are actually but I find the second perhaps more so. Presumable representing slabs of quarried slate, what the relevance of that is I really couldn’t say. All very interesting

    • Magicfingers says:

      I have loads of British, French & Austrian postcards too, and more German ones, very few of which I have yet published apart from Xmas ones, so I think some of them might appear at some point. I think they are marvellous and am glad you do too.
      The memorial. Interesting indeed. A proper translation of the plaque would be helpful.

  4. Margaret Draycott says:

    Great post M love the postcards, so glad to see a post of a German cemetery other than Langemark, think it’s so sad that they rely on volunteers and public subscription to maintain, the German soldier fought for his country as did ours, yet look at how we maintain ours. Get they were the perpetrator but at least the land they are buried in and the crosses should be maintained by the government. Ok rant over, Mum was German and I feel a connection to these places.
    Hope your still holding back the river and your ok.

  5. Magicfingers says:

    I agree. I think this is the seventh German cemetery I have now featured on this site, so I am doing my own teeny-weeny bit to add to what is available on German cemeteries. Now M, I need a fluent German speaker who would just love to translate a few (!!!!!) of my postcards……………………………..

    • Margaret Draycott says:

      Sadly M mum is no longer with us. My German is limited to the basics don’t you know a friendly German teacher?

      • Magicfingers says:

        I might do. I shall work on it. Trouble is that, as Filip pointed out (below), many are written in Sütterlin, which is a bit tricky to work out (ie impossible).

  6. Filip Jacques says:

    You may need someone reading Sütterlin (see Wikipedia), an old way of writing in Germany. Most Germans nowadays can’t even read it any more…

    • Magicfingers says:

      …and which I had always confused with High & Low German which, having checked Wiki as you suggested, I now know more about too. I presume my ‘O’ Level German from a long time ago isn’t going to be of any help, then………

  7. Nick Kilner says:

    Regarding getting postcards translated, I spoke it’s one of my clients this morning who’s wife is German. She has been volunteered to give it a go, so if you email them to me then I will forward them on. He also suggested that you try to find someone who speaks Yiddish, as apparently there are lots of similarities between the two languages.

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