‘Gefallen für Deutschland’ – The Headstone of the Unknown Soldier Part Six

On this Remembrance Sunday, I invite you to spend a few minutes with the men on the other side.  In the years immediately following the Great War, many of the foreign burials in British military cemeteries, and there were thousands, were moved to burial grounds administered by the countries from where the casualties originated.  And, for whatever reason, and as this photograph shows, many were not.

Of the foreign graves still to be found in British military cemeteries, the majority are German, some of whom would have died on the battlefield, and some of whom, wounded, would have died as prisoners-of-war.  Unsurprisingly, a fair number are unidentified, such as the first four men in the row above; note the three men buried nearest the camera are all given a date of death of 24th August 1917.

The two basic styles of both headstones and script are shown above; quite why there are two different shapes of headstone I have yet to establish.  In the centre, ‘Ein Unbekannter Krieger Gefallen für Deutschland 1914-1918’ – ‘An unknown soldier killed in action for Germany 1914-1918’ – and on either side, ‘Ein Unbekannter Deutscher Krieger’ – ‘An unknown German soldier’ – although there are minor differences (lines of text & size of cross) between these last two,…

…as there are between the centre and left headstone here, with the briefest inscription of all, ‘Ein Deutscher Soldat’ – ‘A German Soldier’ – on the right.

Graves of individual unknown German soldiers,…

…these headstones all with dates of death, from left, 25th September 1915, this headstone also including the soldier’s regiment, 2nd December 1917 & 20th February 1918.

Mass grave of twenty unidentified German soldiers on the left, with the grave of a single unknown man on the right.

Headstones marking the graves of, from left, three, two & three unknown soldiers respectively,…

…more mass graves,…

…and another variation on the basic theme, this headstone inscribed with ‘Unbekannter Krieger Gefallen für Deutschland 1914-1918’, without the usual ‘Ein’ at the start of the inscription.

Originally scheduled to appear in the final part of this series, it seemed more sensible, in the end, to include in this post the different styles of grave markers of unknown German soldiers that you might encounter should you visit one of the German Great War cemeteries.  German military cemeteries usually contain either metal crosses (above),…

…or stone tablets, such as this one to a single unknown soldier,…

…or these two with eight unknown men (and a single identified casualty) buried beneath the tablet on the left, and thirteen unknown men beneath that on the right.

Metal crosses marking individual unknown soldier’s graves (above & below),…

…and more tablets, these two graves containing three and four unidentified men,…

…and this one marking two mass graves totalling forty unidentified men.

‘Gefallen für Deutschland’

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13 Responses to ‘Gefallen für Deutschland’ – The Headstone of the Unknown Soldier Part Six

  1. Filip Jacques says:

    It always strikes me how different the atmosphere is on an German cemetery, compared to the British we so often see. One should certainly go and visit the cemetery of Vladslo, with the ‘mourning parents’ designed by Käthe Kollwitz, with her son lying just in front of the work of art, killed in action in the early days of WWI.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Agreed. Very different, atmospherically. And I have still to visit Vladslo. And your bunker, which I haven’t forgotten, btw. I would really really like to do a tour of Ledegem to photograph where all the bunkers once were and what survives……..

  2. Morag Lindsay Sutherland says:

    the German 2WW cemeteries in Normandy also are very different to British white sea of grave markers- I understand much has to do with German mythology – for example crossing into Langemark the ditch is symbolic – but at this time of year better to remember all nations lost their sons ………..thanks for the most interesting post

    • Magicfingers says:

      That’s interesting – when Baldrick & I visited Langemark we entered the place via the ditch and over the wall – not out of disrespect, we just went the wrong way, somehow, and couldn’t find how to get in. You’ve been there, it’s not difficult to find the entrance – don’t ask……

  3. Herman Put says:

    In Lommel (Limburg, Belgium) there’s a very large German Military graveyard, where all the Germans that were killed (oa with the start of Operation Market Garden in neighbouring Leopoldsburg) and burried somewhere (transitionally) got their final resting place. see: https://zoom.nl/foto/overig/duitse-militaire-begraafplaats-lommel.2349402.html

    • Magicfingers says:

      Looks a big place. The father of my good friend Duncan the Elder, who has featured on this site in the past, was captured at Market Garden.

  4. nicholas Kilner says:

    Interesting to see the differing styles of headstone, and even more so to see both styles in the same cemetery. If I had to guess I’d say that there is possibly a set date on which the change came into effect across the board. I wonder if the square stone was brought in later, perhaps the peaked stone was considered too similar to the IWGC design? Another really interesting post

    • Magicfingers says:

      Thanks Nick! I can think of at least a couple of CWGC cemeteries where both styles of German headstone are in evidence, both of which incidentally will feature in our next tour. Your theories may indeed be right.

  5. Magicfingers says:

    Well it’s not quite the same thing, but at the house I grew up in we had a permanent bomb shelter underneath part of the garden – Dad kept his garden tools in it, and wrens used to nest in it, and I used to play in it.

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