This is the project of Johan R. Ryheul from Jabbeke, Flanders, Belgium who is specialised in the history of the German army, air service and navy in Belgium during the Great War.
For over 30 years now I’ve been doing research on the matter.
I’ve written several books on these WW I subjects in both Flemish and English.
I’m also working on several WW I documentaries. In 2014 the Bellewaarde 1915 documentary was made for a charity and currently one on Oswald Boelcke is being finished with German and American co-producers. A four part documentary on the Marinekorps Flandern is also coming in 2019. Gains are always for charities concerning WW I.
I’ve also been participating in documentaries for the BBC and History.
I’ve also been involved in the training of foreign battlefield guides who want to discover the German story in Belgium from the Great War.
And I have my very own view on how battlefield guiding should be and become much more interactive with the participants, to experience what it was like to be a soldier, to use a gas mask, have a meal in the trenches, or learn about tactics in becoming a soldier, a regiment, a tank or a plane.
I’ve travelled along the Western Front mainly in the area from Nieuwpoort to the Saint-Michiel area in France and am a regular visitor of the archives in Belgium, Germany and occasionally in France and the UK.
I’m a volunteer for the German War Graves Commission and have contributed to a number of their projects such as the Apps that are made by them for visits of for example Vladslo German Military Cemetery a.o.
I also work together with the Reservists of the German Bundeswehr while they are here for maintenance of the German WW I cemeteries in West-Flanders.
A big thank you to :
For gathering the information I have to thank a number of people and institutions especially, the RAM at Brussel, Knowledge Centre of the IFF Ypres, Documentation Centre of the MMP 1917 at Zonnebeke, and of course the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge, and especially Hauke Homeier, Peter Paessler and Ilka Borowski.
The Reservisten Verband Nordrhein-Westfalen and especially to Lt.Col. Peter Weyers and his group who do wonderful work on the German cemeteries in West-Flanders.
A big thank you as well as well to Christian Dupret from Ath, who has been helping me on several matters concerning the cemeteries in the Hainaut province.
Also to Bernard Demeire de Orcq and to the Archives Iconographiques du Tournaisis.
To Johan De Jonghe for the help on Hedwigsfriedhof.
To Patrick Brion (BMoD) for new photos and Schore cemetery.
To Rony Meire for the correction on the Koekuit cemetery and the Klerken-Houthulst cemeteries.
To Bart Seynaeve for information on the Gullegem cemetery.
To Peter Van den Broeck for the information on Westerlo.
To Forian Wein for maps from the German archives.
To Yannick Van Lierde for the exhaustive information on the cemeteries in East-Flanders as well on Geraardsbergen.
To Joop Peeters for an impressive number of photos and plans from cemeteries.
To Vincent De Saedeleer for checking some cemeteries for me
Books about the subject
In the past a number of interesting books have been written on some of the German cemeteries, all of them in Dutch. Dirk Verhelst was the pioneer with the book on Hooglede cemetery, Horst Howe, Robert Missine and Roger Verbeke did write one on Langemark and Jan Vancoillie one on Menenwald.
Before you start reading the list, here are a few things you need to know, we used the original names in German of the type of cemetery or graves
So you need to know that :
Gemeinde Friedhof = Communal churchyard or cemetery
Militär Friedhof = Military cemetery
Gelände Grab = Field grave
Gelände Gräber = Field graves
I also mention several times the RAM = Royal Army Museum Brussel
Map with the old provinces of Belgium :
The history of the German burial grounds in Belgium
The aim of this part of the study is to reconstruct a complete overview of all the German burial grounds in Belgium just after the Great War, the situation just before WW II and today.
We have tried to indentify in as many cases as possible what happened with each and every one of these, but unfortunately this has not always been possible as much of the material was destroyed during World War II. Fortunately we had the luck to use a study that dated from just before that war which destroyed much of the German archives and also the ones of the Volksbund für Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge. Finding photographs from the period showing the cemeteries is in many case impossible.
A total of 22 German burial grounds remain today on Belgian soil…
While reading a question in Belgian parlement it already became clear that we had a serious problem concerning the number of cemeteries and burial places during WW I on the German side. There was mentioned that there had been 678 such locations and that this had been reduced to 170 in the 1920’s and 128 in the 1930’s. Grounds that were rented for 30 years. It also said that in between 1955 and 1958 many of these were moved as well to the number we have today. Even in the answer of the MoD at the time, there was nothing that said this was wrong.
This is the wrong idea that is still often represented on the matter of the German cemeteries in Belgium.
But as I mentioned, it all started with a much larger number of cemeteries. The main source for this comes from a German engineer with the name of Fritz Schult who was working for the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge and who made this list probably in 1938 with every trace of the WW I German cemeteries that he still could find.
In Belgium some 1240 German WW I cemeteries and burial grounds have been moved to concentration cemeteries before 1938. After this some 175 German cemeteries remained. There were also 84 locations with German graves on Commonwealth cemeteries, 15 on French cemeteries, 3 on Belgian cemeteries. In the 1950’s the second wave happened… eliminating most of these as well.
It became quite clear to us that the list could not be right in several cases. So we double checked with whatever material that is still available. A large part of this was done at the the Royal Army Museum in Brussel, (Mentioned as RAM in the text) now part of the War Heritage Institute. In a number of cases the original burial registers are still there. It became directly evident that there is a different number of burial in many of these cases to what was written by ingeneer Schult. In other cases information came from communities and even from postcards.
One thing has to be said, and also became more and more clear talking to head archivists and archivists from the official Belgian archives. There was little or no interest for the war graves after the war, and administration was not really important. All countries, Belgium, France, Commonwealth and Germany, started to concentrate war graves from several areas from 1919 on. In many cases the administration was kept minimal, made afterwards or not made at all. What was made was in many cases destroyed. The archives of the German VDK for example during the second world war, part of the Belgian archives (except West-Flanders) on all the burial grounds in Belgium from the participating nations in WW I on our territory went to the foreign affairs ministry. Which has destroyed most of the papers because they were found of no interest any more…
Although so much ink has been used to write about the German military cemeteries in the Great War , nobody seems ever to have cared to try to reconstruct the original situation, while the material was there. Even with all the ceremonies, books and memorials that have been marking 100 years of WW I, nobody seems to have gotten much further than giving the general numbers that are written down by Schult in his study. The number and kinds of trees planted, the architects, the flowers that were planted, the materials that were used, from where the materials came, seems to have been more interesting in many cases then who the men and women were…
By ignoring this we have probably lost a last chance to make use of the local historians who may hold more information and their ability to participate in a national study to who was buried where in a number of cases.
An important note before one start reading this, in the period of time between 1938 and today many names of villages have changed to the new spelling, some places even had several changes. To stay as much as possible with the original list, there was decided to keep the names in the same order as they were, so sometimes the list will be no longer alphabetical due to this.
So let me stop by using ink as well and get to what is truly important and that is an overview of the German cemeteries.
Johan R. Ryheul
Jabbeke – Belgium
Copyright 2017-2018 Johan R. Ryheul