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German Burial Grounds in Belgium

At the end of the First World War German military burial sites were spread over 678 Belgian parish districts. In the district of Langemarck, north-east of Ypres, there were 15 German burial sites ranging from 54 to 1,562 graves. Added to this there were thousands of individual burial plots in fields, woods, on canal banks and alongside roads. German soldiers had also been buried in civilian cemeteries or in British, Belgian and French military cemeteries.

The total number of German soldiers who died in Flanders has never been confirmed. The bodies of 126,168 known German soldiers are buried in the four main collecting cemeteries of Langemarck, Vladslo, Hooglede and Menen, and of these about 120,000 were killed within the province of Flanders; about 16,500 of those were the young Volunteers killed in the autumn battles of 1914.

A few names of the missing at Langemarck German  military cemetery. (copyright: www.greatwar.co.uk)However, many individual graves and some cemetery sites were destroyed during the battes of 1917 and 1918 and some soldiers simply disappeared into the fields of Flanders without a trace. The Volksbund believes that approximately 90,000 soldiers are unidentified or 'missing' and believed to be buried in Flanders. This brings the total of German military dead in Flanders to about 210,000.

In 1925 the German and Belgian governments reached an agreement whereby the 'Official German Burial Service in Belgium' was set up by the German Foreign Office. In close co-operation with the Belgian authorities, the French Service de Pensions and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the exhumation and reburial of German military dead was co-ordinated by the new German Burial Service from offices in Ghent and Ypres.

Before the Second World War broke out the Volksbund was able to work in conjunction with the Official German Burial Service in Belgium, and was able to fulfil one of its aims to be able to arrange for wreaths and photographs of graves to be taken for relatives. The Volksbund established connections with regimental associations and veterans associations and managed to secure some funding from them for the upkeep of the German military cemeteries.

The Second World War

With the outbreak of the Second World War the Official German Burial Service in Belgium was disbanded. From that time the Belgian Goverment, Belgian Red Cross and the organisation 'Onze Graven' / 'Nos Tombes' generously undertook to look after the German military cemeteries.

After 1945

In 1954, an agreement was reached between Belgium and the Federal Republic of Germany to enable an official German organisation to maintain German graves in Belgium again. With regard to the German soldiers of the Second World War killed in Belgium, Allied burial parties moved all of them into two collecting cemeteries: Lommel (39,000) and Recogne-Bastogne (7,000); there are no Second World War German military dead in Flanders.

Langemarck German military cemetery (copyright: www.greatwar.co.uk)In 1954 it was decided by the Volksbund and the Official German Burial Service that all the First World War German dead should also be moved into three 'collecting' cemeteries, these being Langemarck-North, Vladslo (the total burials increased to 25,644) and Menen, which became the largest German military cemetery in Belgium, with 47,864 graves.

During 1957-58 the three First World War collecting cemeteries were renovated according to designs by the Volksbund's chief architect Robert Tischler, who died before the cemeteries were completed.

A small German military cemetery was left in Zeebrugge (173 German graves) and the 8,247 First World War soldiers already buried at Hooglede were left also.

It was agreed not to exhume the 1,105 German soldiers buried in 79 British military cemeteries in Flanders. The highest number of Germans buried in a British cemetery in Belgium is 213 in Lissenthoek.


Acknowledgements

Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge

Copyright Joanna Legg & Graham Parker 2002 All rights reserved