French Flanders: From Laventie to Neuve Chapelle Part Two – Laventie Communal Cemetery

There is just a single CWGC headstone to be found today in Laventie Communal Cemetery. 

This is the grave of Major George Malcolm Nixon Harman D.S.O., The Rifle Brigade, who was killed by shellfire on 28th November 1914, aged 42.

I say ‘today’ because there were once fourteen British burials here, nine men who died between 1914 & 1916, including Major Harman, and five buried here by the Germans in April 1918.

Eight of these burials were removed after the war and reinterred in Longuenese (St. Omer) Souvenir Cemetery, and five, all men killed in April 1918 whose precise grave sites within the communal cemetery had already been lost (meaning, I suppose, they are still here, somewhere), are now commemorated by special memorials in nearby Laventie Military Cemetery, as we saw last post.  Incidentally, when was the last time you saw a single CWGC grave in a communal cemetery surrounded by a little white-stone-topped brick wall in true CWGC-cemetery style?  Unusual, methinks.  Moving on, though, in another part of the cemetery,…

…we encounter what appears to be a memorial of some sort, on the left, and an information board on the right,…

…entitled ‘Traces & Memorial Sites 14-18 – Laventie’s Old Communal Cemetery’.  You can learn a lot from information boards such as this, stuff you probably won’t find in the books, and certainly not in the English ones!  It seems that in the 1920s the municipality of Laventie designed a square of military headstones – thirty Laventie families agreed that their sons who died ‘pour la France’ should be reburied here – surrounding a war memorial to commemorate the one hundred and thirty three Laventois men in total killed during the Great War.  A further seven graves were added after the Second World War.

Eight grey headstones, four on either side, flank the gap leading to the memorial,…

…the four graves on the left, and from the left, soldiers who died 0n 4th March 1916, 16th July 1918, 22nd October 1917 & 11th August 1918.  Second from the left,…

…twenty one year old Dèsire Quemart, killed in July 1918.

Across the gap, the closest headstone is from October 1917, the other three all from June 1918.

The memorial was inaugurated in the 1920s, the plaque on this side obviously added later,…

…and this one later still.

The graves that surround the memorial range from 1914 to 1919 and were brought here from near and far with, as we know, the permission of the families concerned, the inscriptions on each including where they died.  The dates of these men’s deaths are, from left, 24th August 1919, 14th April 1919 & 10th October 1915,…

…these men 14th July 1916, 26th November 1915 & 1st November 1917,…

…and these two 16th April 1917 & 30th August 1918.  On the right,…

…one of the seven Second World War casualties, with more in the row behind.  Robert Parfait died on 4th June 1944, two days before the D-Day invasion, here in occupied France.

One wonders why.  Make what you will of the tablets subsequently placed in front of the headstone; two are familial, I think, one features the cross of Lorraine, which happened to be found on the flag of the Free French Forces in World War II, as shown in the inset, and the inscription on the front tablet says F.F.I., or Forces Françaises de l’Intérieur (French Forces of the Interior), De Gaulle’s formal name for the French resistance in the latter stages of World War II.

Talking of the row behind, the first grave is that of a major killed in the early weeks of the war.

Major Vital Sammarcelli, the commander of 54th Bn. Chasseurs à Pied, who had received a promotion just the previous day, was killed at Fromelles during the early fighting there on 20th October 1914.

The two men next to him are casualties from 1917, on the right, and 1918 on the left,…

…the man on the right Charles Buisine, killed on 14th July 1917 aged 21,…

…the other his elder brother Louis, killed on 21st June 1918, aged 26.

Further along the same row, past the four, smaller, World War II burials (two of whom died in military hospitals),…

…these men died, from the left, on 9th August 1914, 17th October 1918, 3rd May 1917 & 11th June 1917.  The two central headstones…

…are, I believe, although the inscription on the right-hand headstone is very difficult to read, two more brothers, Henri Guestin, who died on 17th October 1918, aged just twenty, on the left, and on the right,…

…his elder brother Albert, killed on 3rd May 1917 aged, I think, twenty two.

Back to the circle of headstones surrounding the memorial, with another Second World War burial on the left, alongside two more Great War casualties who died a day apart, on 1st & 2nd September 1916.

A third plaque on this side of the memorial remembers Leon Charle, ‘Mort Pour La France 1914-1943’, although the only Leon Charle I could find who had any association with Laventie was a soldier with 43rd Infantry Regiment who died, presumably a POW, in Steinberg, in Saxony, eastern Germany, in 1945.  He was, however, also born in 1914, so perhaps they are indeed one and the same.  Back to the surrounding headstones, the two behind and to the left of the memorial…

…men killed on 7th March & 24th July 1916,…

…and the final two, a brigadier on the left who died in Calais on 24th June 1917, and a much earlier casualty, from 5th November 1914, on the right.

There are also seven more military graves elsewhere in the cemetery – one German and six French – quite likely men who died early in the war at a temporary hospital at the Saint-Jean hospice, and perhaps one day I shall pop in to find them.  According to the earlier information board, the presence of eight French soldiers who fell in October 1914 in this cemetery is actually the largest concentration of French graves from the ‘Race to the Sea’ to be found on the Lys plain.  Who am I to argue?

And with that, we must move on, although we have one more short stop to make before we leave Laventie.

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7 Responses to French Flanders: From Laventie to Neuve Chapelle Part Two – Laventie Communal Cemetery

  1. Barry Carlson says:

    Another interesting post, which shows that the CWGC has continued successfully to maintain isolated graves in culturally diverse local cemeteries.

    BTW –
    – provides a description of the various independent resistance groups that made up the FFI.

    • Magicfingers says:

      It does indeed. And yes, FFI now makes sense – I should have known that, really, shouldn’t I? And I most certainly do now. I shall change the text, and be forever grateful.

    • Magicfingers says:

      And have now done. Thanks again Barry.

  2. Morag L Sutherland says:

    Another interesting post . Thank you. I need to find last post about Laventie CWGC cemetery as a Brora boy us buried there. He was a POW.

  3. nicholas Kilner says:

    Curious that the Major was left here when the other burials were removed, or those they could find at least. I wonder if that was done at the behest of the family?
    Interesting, as always.

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