French Flanders: From Laventie to Neuve Chapelle Part Six – Laventie German Military Cemetery

This somewhat sombre German cemetery – you could say they all are – began as a Battle of the Lys burial ground at the start of Operation Georgette on 9th April 1918, and was used until the German retreat four months later.

The understated cemetery entrance,…

…is, on this occasion, devoid of the VDK’s five crosses,…

…although there’s a little version of them here, where you might expect to find the cemetery register.  In a nutshell, the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge e. V. is a charity tasked by the German government to look after German military dead, both in Germany and abroad.

Unfortunately, all there is inside is this.

At the time of our visit…

…the cemetery’s trees were undergoing some serious pollarding,…

…and incidentally, quite why there is this large, empty area (above & below) on the western side of the cemetery on entry, I have no idea.  The obvious answer is that there were once casualties, presumably ‘enemy’ – maybe British, but far more likely Portuguese – buried here by the Germans, and long since moved to the Portuguese military cemetery at Neuve Chapelle, but evidence?  None.

Back to the pollarding, because it’s certainly not the norm,…

…to see metal crosses used as stands…

…for giant toothpicks.

Ah well,…

…I’m sure it was all being done in the best possible taste.

This is a cemetery of crosses.

There are no stone tablets inlaid into the turf to be found here,…

…no mass graves,…

…just the individual final resting places of 1,978 German soldiers.

Cemetery plan, of sorts, the position of the large cross marked in red, the cemetery entrance bottom left.

This post is more a stroll around, rather than an actual tour of, this cemetery, partly because it’s really very difficult to work out where in the cemetery some of these shots were actually taken,…

…but mainly because there is no list of the dead that I can refer to, nor documentation to accompany said non-existent list*, thus this is more a series of shots in some sort of order that give an idea of the essence of the place.

*sometimes, I think, we don’t realize how lucky we are with the amount of online information provided by the CWGC in the form of GRRFs, Burial Report forms and so on, so I thank them heartily once again.

Both Valentin Rogosch, a krankentrager (stretcher bearer),…

…and Max Uebrick, a landsturmmann – the Landsturm was a military reserve corps of older soldiers – were killed on the same day, 25th June 1918.

There are a number of Jewish headstones, or stelle, in this cemetery, that on the right here a gefreiter killed on 20th April 1918; we shall encounter most of the others on our wander.

Of the close to two thousand burials…

…most were buried here at the time of their deaths, although after the war the French authorities brought another 360 German soldiers, whose graves were all originally located elsewhere in various burial grounds in this area of French Flanders, here to be reburied.

It wasn’t until 1926, however, that agreement between French & German authorities allowed the VDK, the following year, to begin their renovation of this, and other, German war cemeteries in France; one imagines that, by that time, they were in quite a state!

By the early 1930s the VDK had taken over the running of all German cemeteries in France, their emblem the signature five crosses now to be seen on many of the cemetery gates (but not this one).

Trees were planted, grass laid and boundaries marked, but the permanent marking of the graves themselves, due initially to financial restrictions, would then have to wait until another German invasion in 1940 had been, ultimately, repelled, the VDK resuming their work in 1946.

Here at Laventie, the cemetery was re-landscaped in 1965, but it was not until the 1970s that the wooden crosses marking the graves were replaced by the metal ones seen today, and presumably the eight Jewish stelle, two of which can be seen above, were also added at the same time.

Both of these (above & below) men were killed in early August 1918,…

…with another here, an unteroffizier (sergeant) killed in the last week of July,…

…also seen over the right shoulder of this cross, that of an unknown German soldier, one of just seventeen unidentified men buried here.

August 1918 casualties (above & below),…

…with a broken, presumably vandalised – these things don’t break of their own accord – Jewish headstone just beyond.

And another of the Jewish headstones, this man killed in May 1918.  Allow your eye to wander toward the only pollarded tree in this picture, and just beyond you will spot a wreath, or the back of a wreath,…

…which looks like this – a typical Germanic effort – from the front, this soldier killed in June 1918.

Time to make our way back…

…towards the Cross,…

…and the toothpicks (the burials in the foreground were made in June 1918)…

…to the cemetery entrance.

Excellent photograph, usually described as a ‘German trench near Laventie’, although personally I would have thought it much more likely to be a captured British or Portuguese trench being shown off to the cameraman by the German officer on the right.  If you know how to spot the difference between a German and British sandbag, I’m all ears.

Our journey now continues almost due south for around a thousand yards towards the village of Fauquissart, and the cemetery closest to the old front lines that we shall be visiting on this first half of our tour.

This entry was posted in French Flanders, German Military Cemeteries, Laventie. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to French Flanders: From Laventie to Neuve Chapelle Part Six – Laventie German Military Cemetery

  1. Daisy in Bali, Indonesia says:

    Hey Magicfingers,
    Uuurrrgghh. What a spooky place. Your dark photos, especially the first, don’t help lighten the mood. Those butchered trees just helping to set the tone. Black crosses, no colourful flowers, so gloomy. I wouldn’t like to wake up every morning in the farmhouse and see this scene out of my bedroom window…
    Very interesting to see what the VDK does anyway.

    • Magicfingers says:

      I think if I lived next door I’d plant some flowers at the entrance and probably get into trouble with some local dignitary. Probably not for the first time…….

  2. Margaret Draycott says:

    When you see other nations cemeteries especially the German ones it makes you appreciate what the CWG achieve with all the cemeteries in so many different countries in their care. In a country like Germany with its wealth so wrong that it’s a voluntary organisation that has to take care of their war dead.
    Think the letter seems to suggest something he’s happened to the cemetery book and hope for your understanding.
    As for the photo of the trench looks far to messy to be a German one, a captured one makes more sense.
    Thanks for visiting M, don’t suppose they get many, do like the German wreaths although maybe doesn’t have the same significance as our poppy ones or does it?

  3. Jon T says:

    The German cemeteries certainly do have a very different feel and so many were removed after the Second World War as I understand it.

    First time we visited Langemark a group of the VDK were there cleaning/restoring many of the stone tablets. Their leader (he like a lot of them I think was ex-military) said it was very difficult for them to keep the German cemeteries in good order given their limited resources. Even more so for those in Eastern Europe. He said there is little interest in the First World War in Germany in general – in sharp contrast to here !

    • Magicfingers says:

      Thanks as ever, Jon. Yes they were, and understandably so. The Belgian German cemeteries were all concentrated into four or five large cemeteries between the wars because, without pulling any punches, the Belgians didn’t want masses of dead invadong Germans buried everywhere. You can’t blame them. I suspect that, bearing in mind their history for the first half of the 20th Century, you probably have to be German to really understand their attitude to the Great War, and, obviously, the Second World War too.

  4. Margaret Draycott says:

    Yes I believe that to be the case and while I understand to some extent, those men/boys died fighting for their country on the direction of their leaders and the least they could do is take care of their final resting place.
    Doesn’t have to be on the scale of CWG but some support would be nice

  5. Gordon Plimmer says:

    Hi M/F,
    Been off the radar for a while, but still assiduously following your work and finding it invariably interesting, thank you.
    The only German military cemetery I have so far visited is that at Langemarck. This one at Laventie strikes me as being almost as forbidding and austere. I was told once that the Germans mourn their dead whilst we remember them. The atmosphere of the relative cemeteries would perhaps seem to bear that out.
    I believe all the trees at Langemarck were oak. I wonder what species of tree are planted at Laventie?

    • Magicfingers says:

      Ey up Gordon! Good to hear from you. Glad you are still keeping track of me! That is a very interesting point, actually; mourning or remembering. Very interesting indeed. And I rather assumed the trees here are pollarded willows, but what do I know?

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