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Remembered Today:

German headstones on CWGC cemeteries in Belgium


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This tweet was brought to my attention:

 

As I am not on twitter and thought fellow forumites here might be interested as well, I decide to give a bit of explanation about the German headstones on CWGC cemeteries in Belgium here.

 

First of all, as there was a difference in management of the German war graves between France and Belgium (according to the Versailles Treaty, "Allied and associated commissions" had to deal with the German war graves outside of Germany, in France this was the French official administration, but in Belgium nothing happened until the Germans were allowed back in by 1926).

As the Germans were responsible for the German graves in Belgium according to a secret agreement, IWGC had to deal with this Amtliche Gräberdienst which was directly dependent from the German Ministry of Exterior via their Embassy in Belgium. By the late 1920s the IWGC was getting worried as the German graves were still marked by the IWGC wooden grave markers and these clashed with the mostly perfectly aligned rows of uniform Portland headstones.

Matters were discussed for the first time on 13 October 1930 in Brussels at the Belgian Ministry of Defence in the presence of the vice chairman of the IWGC. It was probably Dipl.-Ing. Schult (the man in charge of the German war graves commission in Belgium) who was present to negotiate on behalf of the Germans. The IWGC proposed Morley-Javot, which was allegedly also used by the IWGC next to Portland. The Germans had sent a French Euville-sandstone to Arras but these probes had not survived the travel by road.

A second meeting was arranged in Brussels on 6 November 1931 where the matter was discussed further. Schult agreed to the British proposal of using Morley-Javot. However, the costs per headstone were quite high (and the German war graves commission in Belgium had only a very limited budget) so Schult, who needed approval from Germany, suggested to put two or whenever possible even three names on one headstone or even joint headstones to reduce costs even further. This meant at least 580 headstones and 7 joint stones, which would cost some 27,500 RM. In the same meeting, the IWGC agreed to take over the joint German-British cemeteries at Hautrage and Marcinelle (where more Germans than British were buried) under their care.

The reply from German came only on 28 March 1933. The cost of 27,500 RM was considered too high and it was suggested to investigate what the cost would be for exhuming the German graves from the British cemeteries and reburying them in German cemeteries. At the same time, they would start looking around in Germany whether a cheaper stone could be found.

A solution came rather quickly. A letter from Berlin dated 12 June 1933 stated that 73 German graves in the sector of the consulate of Port Said in Egypt would receive headstones looking like the British ones and the same stone could be used for Belgium. The letter also stetd how the headstones should be engraved ( cancelling the earlier proposal suggested by the IWGC in 1931).

The summer of 1933 saw the end of the discussion. A decree from 26 September 1933 settled the matter and this was communicated by letter dated 10 October 1933 from the Landesfinanzamt Düsseldorf to the German Ministry of Exterior in Berlin. They recommended the use of trachyte, cut tin the Westerwald area, an area and industry hit hard by the economic depression of the time. The firm Joh. Dill from Weidenhahn was recommended.

Whether this stone was selected or not, I do not know as the German archives have suffered severely in the Second World War and I had no plans to do something with the subject of German headstones on British cemeteries, so I may have missed some things. Anyway, another document shows a German headstone with the following subtitle: Warrior's memorial made on behalf of the German Ministry of Exterior, Berlin. Made by: Steinwerke Rupp & Moeller, Karlsruhe/Baden. Material: "Morley-Javot". Place: German warrior's graves in Belgium.

I will try to see whether I find something more about the final choice of stone (trachyte or Morley-Javot). Anyway, the final agreement dated 26 January 1934 agreed with the German proposal: 1. the Iron Cross symbol on the headstone, 2. placing the headstones so that they would seem almost as high as the British ones, 3. the IWGC asked the Germans to also place headstones on the graves of the unknown, 4. the IWGC suggested to use "Ein unbekannter deutscher Krieger" (an unknown German warrior) as the text for an unknown burial and 5. the addition of "zur Erinnerung" to be placed on memorial stones (similar to special memorials).

 

This is just a short resume of my research in this matter, which I intend to elaborate in one of my due to be published english language books on German military cemeteries in Flanders.

 

Perhaps the knowledgeable stonemasons of the CWGC may be able to tell the difference between Morley-Javot and trachyte and say which was used in the end (or even discover that still another kind of stone was used).

 

Jan

 

 

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every day a school day !!! 

Thanks for this post!! 

 

M.

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