Arriving in the centre of Boesinghe, our attention turns briefly to 1918, as we spot another of the nineteen Demarcation Stones that can still be found in Belgium to this day.
As you all know by now, these Stones were erected in the 1920s to mark the extent of the German offensive in the spring of 1918…
…and this is the first of three we shall encounter on this tour. As with many of these Demarcation Stones, whether this one is in exactly the right place is a moot point; during the Second World War, many of them were removed for fear that they would be destroyed by the Germans, and whether they were replaced in the ‘correct’ place after the war is open to question (we shall broach this subject again later). Certainly in April 1918, as the British withdrew across the hard-won battlefields of Third Ypres, the Germans gained the western bank of the canal in a number of places but, as elsewhere, here at Boesinghe Belgian troops defending the village prevented it falling into German hands, so perhaps this Demarcation Stone should be a few hundred yards east, nearer the canal, of its current position.
The first Demarcation Stone we saw, many moons back now, was on the north east road out of Ypres, a short distance past Potijze, and that post contains much of the background information on these Stones; should you wish to delve further, or refresh your memory, you will find all you need to know here.
Production number, and what must be the maker’s name – L. Tel—, Granitier (an extractor of granite) – in Andlau, Alsace.
The signpost is slightly misleading, at least for us. We shall indeed be heading that way, but to reach Veurne (Furnes in the Great War) Poperinge & Elverdinge, a sharp left turn to the west is required 500 yards north of here, and that is not our route on this day.
No sign here of the “Ici fut repoussé l’envahisseur” inscription that originally adorned all the Demarcation Stones, both in Belgium and in France,…
…but the Touring Club of Belgium inscription is still clearly evident (again, details can be found if you follow the earlier link).
The Stone features a French helmet, but I guess a Belgian or British one would be just as appropriate.
The road south, back towards Ypres, and if you look carefully beyond the Stone…
…which points across the canal towards a memorial remembering the first victims of the German use of gas on 22nd April 1915, and we will indeed visit the memorial on this tour, but not for quite a while yet.
Immediately behind the Demarcation Stone, this mass of ivy…
…covers a British bunker, on top of which sits Klene Berta,
She’s a First World War German trench mortar, an example of the 17cm mittlerer Minenwerfer that the Germans introduced in 1913, following studies of the Siege of Port Arthur during the Russo-Japanese War of 1905.
Muzzle loaded and portable (one of the wheels is visible), the mortar fired 110lb high explosive shells up to 1,700 yards (although particularly accurate at 325 yards or under) that contained much more explosive than normal artillery shells of the same calibre, and could successfully destroy bunkers and field emplacements that had proved resistant to field artillery.
It was a highly successful weapon and some 2,360 of them were produced during the war. Firing from a five foot deep pit, a trained crew could launch twenty rounds per minute. The only downside, as the war progressed and supplies dwindled, was the use in the mortar’s shells of explosives whose shock-resistant properties were less than the preferred TNT. This, when combined with thinner shell cases, which allowed more explosive to be packed inside, at times resulted in premature detonations, and thus constant danger to the crew.
And if you can’t get to Boesinghe, maybe you can get to Honing in Norfolk, where you’ll find another one.
The bunker was used as an observation post, once with clear views across the canal,…
…but I’m afraid that accessing it isn’t feasible, and anyway it would be trespassing.
The tablet affixed to the bunker’s side,…
…will be translated by some kind person out there who, as we speak, is reading this post. Yes, you!
With which we leave Klene Berta,…
…because we’re heading that way.
All of three hundred yards, to get a couple of photos of Boesinghe Château.
During the war the ruins of the original château were used by the British as a Brigade Headquarters, and an A.D.S. was also set up here.
Somewhere in the grounds of the château, perhaps on the very lawn in front of us, nineteen men, mainly from the Guards Division, were buried in June 1917, their bodies long since removed. We shall return briefly to these men much later in the tour, when we visit Artillery Wood Cemetery.
By a rather extraordinary coincidence, at the time of writing I knew of just one name among the men originally buried here, a certain Lance Corporal James Lyall, Scots Guards, who died on 25th June 1917 and whose body, after the war, was moved to Duhallow A.D.S. Cemetery. Remarkably, when I mentioned this to a friend of mine (and sometime reader of this blog) in passing, he looked at me askance, and within twenty four hours had sent me the following, “My friend’s grandfather was indeed L/Cpl J.Lyall of the Scots Guards, killed the 25th July 1917, I have photos at the graveside.” Isn’t that amazing?
Next post, still in Boesinghe, we turn our attention to the civilians, living their peaceful lives in the villages or the farms hereabouts, whose fortunes were changed forever as the tide of war swept over their land.