Mont Kemmel Part Thirteen – The French Ossuary

This is the French ossuary on the western slopes of the Kemmelberg. 

If you ever visit, you will find some nearby information boards that probably explain everything far better than I am going to……so I’ll show them to you in close-up at the end of the post.

Should you have read the previous posts, you will know what occurred here, and why the French had so many men to bury.

The memorial face today features two panels, the upper one, the original panel,…

…reminding us that the remains of 5,294 unidentified troops – officers, NCOs & other ranks – who died in the surrounding area – are buried here,…

…along with just fifty seven identified men whose names appear on the lower panel.  Presumably these men are included in the original number of 5,294 and their identities have been discovered in subsequent years,…

…because the panel is nowhere to be seen in this black and white photograph from some time earlier, which might suggest that none of the men buried here had been identified when this picture was taken.

The memorial is surmounted, quite rightly, by the French cockerel, who takes place of honour,…

…and there are smaller tablets (above & below) at the base of the memorial,…

…although not the same ones as in the black and white photo.  ‘Passer-by, remember and pray’.

The sides of the memorial also feature tablets,…

…this one listing the names of the French commanders whose troops fought here,…

…the opposite side listing the French armies who fought in the area between 1914 & 1918.

The men are buried in these small walled areas…

…on either side of the ossuary,

…and while we are here,…

…this is one of the few places – and remember we are some way from the top of the hill here – where you still get more than just an idea of the strategic importance of the Kemmelberg, the view from here stretching for miles to the west, behind the British lines.

There is a cemetery register here which resides in the small but elegant register box (close-up below) you can see to the right of the memorial.

It’s a strange feeling, walking around these small walled areas…

…knowing how many men are interred in the earth beneath.

It feels as if their memorial should be grander, but I suppose the Angel up on the hill serves that purpose.

And finally, as I promised at the start, here are the information boards in close-up – click to enlarge, of course.

And it is only after reading the information boards that it becomes clear that these two areas on either side of the cobbled walkway, immediately on entering, surrounded by low kerbing and with whatever type of bushes those are, are also mass graves, there actually being four areas within the ossuary in which the men were interred.

Early views of the ossuary (above & below).

On several occasions in the past I have bemoaned the removal of trees from CWGC cemeteries.

How ironic, then, that in this instance, and nothing whatsoever to do with the CWGC, I think it’s a shame the trees beyond the monument now obscure the view.  No pleasing me.

The temporary victors,…

…and the eventual ones – French & British troops return to the Kemmelberg after the German retirement in September 1918.

Update 2023: At the time this tour was written, I had yet to visit the Lettenberg Bunkers, as they are known, dug beneath a subsidiary hill to the north of the Kemmelberg.  As I have now done so, and as a tour of the bunkers should fit into our larger Kemmel tour next, I suggest you take a look by clicking here.  There will be a link at the end taking you to the next post on our Kemmel tour.

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10 Responses to Mont Kemmel Part Thirteen – The French Ossuary

  1. Alan says:

    Thanks again for an informative post. I knew that French used ossuaries but had a completely different understanding of what they were, expecting to see buildings in which bones were stacked. Whereas in this case it seems to the refer to a mass grave.

  2. Filip Jacques says:

    A few years ago I visited the Somme region. It struck me there that French cemeteries often have an ossuary as well as individual graves. Is it a cultural difference as well, considering that the British (and German) cemeteries don’t have them? I wonder.

  3. nicholas Kilner says:

    Excellent post! Jonesy and I walked up to the ossuary from Barry’s last time we visited. Its only a ten minute stroll across the fields, and is actually just out of shot in one of your photographs (I think). I say its a ten minute stroll, its a ten minute stroll if your not head down looking for shrapnel balls and the like lol. He really does have the most amazing collection of weapons, and his wife is a fantastic baker. Debs tea garden, Godtschalckstraat 36, 8958 Heuvelland, well worth a visit. Hopefully Barry has finally finished building his museum now, its a few years since I was last there. Due to an over abundance of Duval triple hopped, I can’t actually remember much about my last visit hahaha

    • Magicfingers says:

      Thanks mate! Lol indeed – I can picture that slow slow walk. I have got to visit your mate Barry next time – am looking at end of November for a possible sortie – because I didn’t get the chance to see the bunkers at Kemmel previously and thus I have a fine reason to return there. Bunkers first, Barry’s second, by the sound of it…..

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