A short way east of Potijze, this is one of nineteen Demarcation Stones still to be found in Belgium. They were erected in the 1920s to either mark the extent of the German offensive that finally petered out in July 1918, or the point of departure from which the Allies launched their final, ultimately successful, onslaught against the Germans the following month, depending on which book you read.
Although 240 stones were originally scheduled to be erected along the complete length of the Western Front between the Belgian coast and the French/Swiss border, in the end, due to lack of funds and perhaps lack of interest, only 118 were eventually put in position, 22 in Belgium and 96 in France. Considering both countries were occupied for four years during the Second World War, and that the stones bore the inscription ‘Ici fut repoussé l’envahisseur’, meaning ‘From here the invader was pushed back’, which one imagines the Germans were not too happy to be reminded about, it seems to me quite remarkable that nineteen of the Belgian stones still survive*. I am fairly certain that the Germans destroyed three of them in World War II, and I suspect most of the others must have been hidden for the duration.
*In Belgium, at least, the words were inscribed on three sides of the stones in three languages, French, Flemish and English; ‘Ici fut repoussé l’envahisseur’ or ‘Ici fut arrete l’envahisseur’, ‘Hier werd de overweldiger tot staangebracht’, and ‘Here the invader was brought to a standstill’.
Each stone is one metre high, topped with a laurel wreath and a British, as in this case, French, or Belgian helmet, depending on which troops were holding the line at the point the stones were erected. A British gas mask case adorns one of the sides (above), with a water bottle on the opposite side (see below – again, other stones are carved with the French or Belgian equivalents), all the stones have four carved exploding grenades at each corner, and all have the name of the town or city being defended/attacked inscribed on the laurel wreath. The six stones, including this one, that still exist between Boezinge to the north of the city and Voormezele to the south are all inscribed ‘Ypres’.
You will notice that there is no ‘Ici fut repoussé l’envahisseur’ inscription on this particular stone. It was probably removed in more modern times once former enemies had become present friends.
Continuing our journey east, but still less than half a mile from the Potijze cemeteries, the cemetery of St. Charles de Potyze contains 4209 French burials of the First World War, as well as a mass grave in which lie the remains of 609 unidentified French soldiers.
Information board. French only.
This impressive monument by the sculptor Jean Fréour was added in 1967.
St. Charles de Potyze Cemetery was begun early in the war, when French troops who were holding the line set up an aid post in a school that once stood here, burying their dead in a nearby garden. After the French handed over this section of the Ypres defences to the British in 1915, the cemetery remained unused for the rest of the war and, being so close to the front line, was shelled throughout much of that time. After the war it was reclaimed and much enlarged when men were brought in from battlefield graves throughout Belgian Flanders, but many of the burials here still date from 1914 and early 1915.
The only French cemetery in Belgium, St. Charles de Potyze now consists of 26 rows of crosses split into eight plots.
If you look carefully, in the background to the right, just to the left of the gap in the hedge, you will notice eight crosses, set at a different angle to all the others. These are more recent graves; the cemetery still accepts burials of men found on the battlefields even into the 21st century.
There are Christian, Muslim and non-religious burials here. Beyond the crosses in the right half of the photo a low brick wall encloses the mass grave mentioned earlier.
At the base of this stone obelisk, adorned with four carved wreaths…
…are memorial plaques to French regiments…
…even a Division.
Not including the men buried in the mass grave, 762 of the burials here are unidentified.
Photo from the information board showing the cemetery in 1929.
Au revoir. The final cemetery on this tour is just stone’s throw away.