Mont Kemmel Part Twenty One – Loker Demarcation Stone No. 2 & Kemmel Demarcation Stone No. 1

Eleven months ago we began this tour of the Kemmel battlefields by visiting Kemmel Demarcation Stone No. 2, and today, as the sun gets lower in the sky, we shall finish with two more of the Demarcation Stones that ostensibly mark the limit of the German advance in the spring of 1918. 

This stone is referred to as Loker Demarcation Stone No. 2, and we shall end with Kemmel Demarcation Stone No. 1, which all seems a bit arse-about-face, but that’s just the way it is, and as I’ve said before, who actually cares?

A final map – well, almost – to accompany the final post.  Down at the bottom, on the left, Loker is marked in orange, with Locre Hospice Cemetery, our previous stop, close by in dark green.  On the right, the mass of Mont Kemmel is highlighted in pink, with Kemmel village shaded in dark blue to its north east.  Near the centre of the map Loker Demarcation Stone No. 2 is marked in mauve, and towards the top right, Kemmel Demarcation Stone No. 1 is marked in red.  The Front Line, as annotated on this map, is dated 13th May 1918, a fortnight after Ludendorff had ended Operation Georgette, the German offensive in Flanders.

So this is Loker Demarcation Stone No. 2, the mauve dot on the map,…

…and perhaps on this occasion, as we are visiting two of these stones, we’ll also revisit the reason for their existence.

During the early 1920s, 240 of these Demarcation Stones were scheduled to be erected along the complete length of the Western Front between the Belgian coast and the French-Swiss border, to either mark the extent of the German offensive that finally petered out down in France in July 1918, or the point of departure from which the Allies launched their final, ultimately successful, offensive against the Germans the following month, depending on which book or website takes your preference, or on your interpretation of the inscription that once adorned all of the stones.  The point being that the front line would have changed in small ways during the fighting in the summer of 1918, and so the position of the furthest German advance in the spring here in Flanders may not have been the exact spot from which the Allied advance in August began.

However, in many cases, the original inscriptions were erased some years ago, perhaps to pacify the Nazi invader, although undoubtedly many stones were hidden during the Second World War, more likely in later times, when former enemies had kissed and made up, and both Demarcation Stones featured in this post no longer show any sign of an inscription.

I say ‘an inscription’, singular, although in Belgium each stone bore the inscription ‘Ici fut repoussé l’envahisseur 1918’ in French on the front of the stone,…

…which roughly translates as ‘From here the invader was pushed back’, which was also once inscribed in English on this side,…

…and repeated in Flemish – ‘Hier werd de overweldiger tot staangebracht’ – on this side.

Despite this particular stone now being inscriptionless, there are a couple of stones in Belgium that somehow retain their original inscriptions, the best example of which we visited a while back (click here for a reminder).

In the end, due to lack of funds and perhaps lack of interest, only 118 stones were put in position, of which twenty two were in Belgium, and of these, nineteen remain to this day, the three missing stones quite possibly destroyed by the Germans, or perhaps hidden by people who didn’t survive the war to reveal their hiding places, and thus they remain lost, one day to be miraculously discovered.  Well, you never know.  My best advice?  Drain a few dykes; my bet is that that’s where the missing stones, if they weren’t blown up, are most likely to be found.

One more stop to make before darkness falls, so back to the car,…

…and off we go again, onwards towards the second Demarcation Stone, as our view of the Kemmelberg changes from a roughly westerly one…

…to this view, which looks almost due south,…

…which is where we find the fourth and final Demarcation Stone on this tour.

It probably won’t surprise you, if you read the Jean Parnin post, to see that both these final Demarcation Stones feature a French helmet on the top – the five remaining (there were once six) Demarcation Stones around Ieper (Ypres) all feature British helmets, and eight of the ten that remain further north between Ieper & Nieuwpoort on the Channel coast have a Belgian helmet, the other two being French.  All the Demarcation Stones in France (including all those on the Somme), incidentally, feature a French helmet with the inscription, in French only, on the face of each stone.

View of Mont Kemmel from what is referred to on the signpost on the postcard as ‘Cross road Pompier’, and which took quite some time to locate,…

…until I found Pompier Camp marked on this map from July 1918, the photo therefore taken from the base (top) of the southward-pointing blue arrow, and with the Demarcation Stone once again marked in red.

Incidentally, because I like and respect you, I’ll let you into a secret known only to those who consider themselves authorities on Demarcation Stones, and thus I will be ejected from the Inner Circle and become an outcast.  Come closer.  Don’t bother attempting to differentiate between French and Belgian helmets on Demarcation Stones, because there ain’t no difference, and although the badges on the helmets do differ between French & Belgian stones, they are often eroded beyond easy recognition, particularly when looking later at photographs.  The simplest way to tell the difference is to look on this side, where, although no longer sharp, the outline of a French water bottle can be seen; compare with the stone at Oud-Stuivekens that you looked at earlier if you clicked the link, which features a decidedly Belgian water bottle.  It really is that simple.

Topped by a helmet resting on a laurel wreath, and with the water bottle on one side…

…and a gas mask case on the other, the stones, designed by French sculptor Paul Moreau-Vauthier, are a metre high, or maybe 1.25 metres, I haven’t got one handy to measure (or have I, he says conspiratorially, bearing in mind those missing ones……), and made of pink granite.

Which is why they appear pink.  All the stones have four carved exploding grenades at each corner,…

…and all have the name of the town or city being defended inscribed on the laurel wreath,…

…or at least they did once, although you’d be hard-pressed to decipher exactly what the original name was on this stone.  Personally, I think all four of these stones featured in this tour have, or had, ‘Kemmel’ on them, especially as we have already established that Loker Demarcation Stone No. 2, the first one in this post, most certainly does.

And that’s about that.  And with the sun now gone, nightfall not so far away,…

…and some seriously unstable Flemish citizens on the loose,…

…it’s time, as the Kemmelberg recedes into the distance, to flee ‘Chez Baldrick’ for some grub,…

…and, chances are, a few beers too.  Thanks for your company, all.  Cheers!!

Postscript

In the end, Operation Georgette, the German attack along the River Lys between 9th & 29th April 1918, managed to penetrate some ten miles into the Allied lines, but failed to take the Flanders hills, as we have seen, and also failed to capture Hazebrouk, the Allies main railhead in the area some fifteen miles south west of Ypres (Ieper).  The British remained holding Ypres, there was no retreat from the Ypres salient, and the Germans, after a brief pause, turned their attention south, towards the Aisne.  Historians have long debated the death toll in Flanders during the battle.  In the 1930s, the official British history gives total casualty figures between 21st March & 30th April 1918 – a longer period than the official battle – as approximately 240,000 British, 92,000 French & 348,000 German.  Martin Middlebrook, writing in the late 1970s, estimated British casualties as 160,000 (he included some 75,000 who were captured), of whom 22,000 were killed, French casualties as 80,000 & German casualties as around 250,000.  21st Century historians quote figures of 76,000 British losses, 35,000 French & 109,000 German; one of the most recent estimates gives figures of 82,000 British casualties, 30,000 French, and 86,000 Germans.  I suppose we shall never know the actual figures; suffice to say that an awful lot of men on both sides lost their lives as a result of the German’s final attempt to win some sort of victory in Flanders during the spring of 1918.

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3 Responses to Mont Kemmel Part Twenty One – Loker Demarcation Stone No. 2 & Kemmel Demarcation Stone No. 1

  1. Jon T says:

    Thanks MF for a fantastic series of posts about a battle of which I knew nothing before I started reading these. What desperate times the must have been for both sides. It is odd that the titanic struggles of 1918,whether the German March/April Offensives or the subsequent Allied counterattacks seem to have slipped from popular memory in comparison to the Somme etc whereas they seem to me to be just as terrible in their own way, with equally appalling casualty lists.

    Where to next ??

    • Magicfingers says:

      Indeed. Where next? Well, we could continue our sort-of-on-going tour of the cemeteries across the border in French Flanders – but we shan’t. Not yet. There are a handful of cemeteries to the south east of Mont Kemmel, and there are some cemeteries between where the Kemmel tour began and Ieper that we have yet to visit (well, I have, obviously). My bet is one of those is most likely, but who knows? Well, me, theoretically, but I have yet to decide. We shall see. Your kind words are much appreciated Jon. Always good to hear that new stuff has been learned. Thanks!

  2. nicholas Kilner says:

    A really excellent series my friend, most enjoyable reading. Interesting info about the water bottle thingy too, thank you for sharing that little titbit. Nice working finding the location of that photo too!

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