This is part of our November Remembrance postings for 2022. This year has a reflection theme of graves and Germans perspective of other nations. This is Part one of postings reflecting and remembering the fallen.
The photograph here was taken by a German Solider during World War 2 upon a visit Bailleul Communal Cemetery, France The location of Bailleul Communal Cemetery, is in the French town of Bailleul on the French/Belgium border, just North-East of Belgium. The Communal Cemetery is the resting place of 610 Commonwealth burials of soldiers who died during the Great War of 1914-1918. The earliest the cemetery was used for the Commonwealth burials was in April 1915 towards the eastern side of the cemetery. Once this was filled their was a extension that was added and used until April 1918. In that same year 11 of the graves in the Communal cemetery were destroyed by shellfire from the ongoing conflict. These graves were later honoured and represented by special memorials in the cemetery.
The extension as mentioned was added in April 1918, the burials at Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension contains 4,403 Commonwealth burials of soldiers who died during the Great War of 1914-1918. The extension also saw 17 Commonwealth burials of soldiers who died during The Second World War and 154 combined graves of German Soldaten from both conflicts (Estimated 55 from World War Two). It is to note that the Second World War graves would not have been present at the time of this photo as the conflict was ongoing.
The statistics of those who lost their lives during the Great War of 1914-1918 and buried from each nation is as follows: United Kingdom 3,306, Australia 394, Canada 291, New Zealand 252, Germany 99, India 5, South Africa, 1. A Total 4,348 graves would have been present in the Communal Cemetery and a later 13 graves from the United Kingdom and 9 graves from Germany would be added from World War 2, 22 graves combined.
Although it is not seen in the photograph, its is worth mentioning to add context for the significance of the area and the fallen that is remembered. In the centre of the town of Bailleul there is also a Stone Obelisk that was erected by the 25th Division of the British Army, An infantry division part of Lord Kitchener's Third New Army. The Stone Obelisk becoming a symbolic memorial on the Western Front as it marked the start of the Divisions war service at the town in which the Cemetery is located, Bailleul. This Obelisk is also to symbolise their involvement in the Battle of Messines.
(See the end of the page for more notable mentions)
It was common for German Soldaten to visit battlefields and Gravesites from previous conflicts. This in part due to how recent the First World War was to many people of Germany. The First World War was still a very raw and recent event for European Nations and the World, but Germany feeling its aftereffects not just from the loss of life but financially and territorially from the Treaty of Versailles. The veterans of World War One, to which many would find themselves in the German Wehrmacht would have mixed feelings about a Second World War. Themselves witnessing first hand the horrors and devastation of the Great War would be fearful of the same, whilst still having a significant feeling of importance and pride to serve their country, The conflict being vastly different to the type of combat that was the Great War of 1914-1918, a more modern and complex type of warfare to what they experienced. There would be mixed emotions for them as would any returning veteran of any nation to find themselves again fighting in Europe against the enemy in which they fought before. These emotions would likely be very raw for them if they visited the graves and cemetery's like that seen photographed. It is not known if the individual who photographed this was in fact a veteran themselves however the living memory of the conflict would be instilled in the Soldat from the impact the 1914-1918 war had their family.
This photograph and visit made by the German Wehrmacht (to which branch is unknown) whilst paying respects to the fallen of the Commonwealth as seen captured in this photo would likely have visited the German World War One graves to pay their respect and reflect upon their sacrifice. The German Soldaten would be remembering their fallen and looking on to a hopeful campaign in the Second World War. This photograph likely taken after 1940, after the occupation of both France and Belgium, to which the same period the German forces were making great progress in occupying territories.
The Photograph shows us the extent of just some of the graves that can be seen at the cemetery. Whilst the graves are not in as crisp of focus as we would like to identify some names of those who are buried we can see some details in the foreground such as regimental insignia seen at the top of the headstone. The greater and more meaningful detail can be seen in the gravestone seen closest in photograph. These graves simply bear the words "A solider of the Great War" with a simple cross in the centre. These are the unfortunate "Unknown Soldiers" those who's bodies were not identified but are still buried in the cemetery and their sacrifices in service still remembered equally to those who's bear their name and regiment as seen behind them. This fate was unfortunately far to common in this conflict as time to retrieve and properly document and bury the dead in the respectful way they deserve as seen in other conflicts. The Unknown solider becoming a title given to those who couldn't be identified, this title was still given in the Second World War (See other KB41 Collection posts for examples!) but not as common. The attention to document the dead was undertaken in a more vigorous way with attention to details of the fallen, lessons were learnt from the unfortunate circumstances the Great War created for all sides.
The unknown shows the scale of how many died in the conflict and that many couldn't be identified as they should, likewise many unfortunately (not seen here) were buried in mass graves. An example of this is Langemark, Belgium (West Flanders) to which in one case some 24,917 soldiers are buried in one mass grave and 7,977 are unfortunately unknown. The known that are buried in the mass grave are acknowledged and remembered in the surrounding gravestones.
This photograph showing just one of many cemeteries in which Commonwealth are laid to rest from the Great War of 1914-1918 and the mutual respect that the Germans who have visited these graves and memorials had to not to deface or destroy them. The majority of sites as seen here and at Vimmy Ridge and the unknown solider in France (See KB41 Collections post on this) saw German forces being respectful and attending to reflect and show their admiration and respect for the loss of life. A photograph that the Soldaten would have sent home to their families to show them that they have visited the graves and areas in which their nation fought for in the First World War. The photographer detailing the reverse as "Deutscher Soldatenfriedhof in Flandern 1914-18" translating to; German military cemetery in Flanders 1914-18, a way that they acknowledge their attendance of to the cemetery for future remembrance of their visit to Bailleul Communal Cemetery.
Notably mentioned burials(Allied) at the Bailleul Communal Cemetery are:
1396 Flight Sergeant
V. C., D. C. M.
- 20th Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, died 12th January 1917, aged 27. Plot III. A. 126.
An extract from "The London Gazette," No. 29937, dated 9th Feb., 1917, records the following:- "For most conspicuous bravery, endurance and skill, when attacked at an altitude of 9,000 feet; the petrol tank was pierced and the machine set on fire. Enveloped in flames, which his Observer, Lt. Gower was unable to subdue, this very gallant soldier succeeded in bringing his aeroplane back to our lines, and though he made a successful landing, the machine collapsed on touching the ground, pinning him beneath wreckage from which he was subsequently rescued. Though suffering extreme torture from burns, Serjt. Mottershead showed the most conspicuous presence of mind in the careful selection of a landing place, and his wonderful endurance and fortitude undoubtedly saved the life of his Observer. He has since succumbed to his injuries." - Quoted from Bailleul Communal Cemetery
Lest We Forget, From all sides of both conflictsk
- They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning We will remember them. -