Ypern 2016

My brother in law David Poore and I arrived in Ypres on the slightly foggy evening of Friday June 3, 2016. Our accommodation is ‘Churchill’s Room’, not far from the Menin Gate. This colossal triumphal arch – inaugurated on July 24, 1927 – serves as a memorial to the missing and holds the names of nearly 60.000 Commonwealth soldiers who died in the ‘Ypres Salient’ but whose bodies have never been identified or found.

1. Menin Gate
Mening Gate, private collection

We’re here to visit the place where Bernhard Kronauers Regiment saw action duri g the First World War, and to promote Krieg 1916 in Ypres, the town famously known for the British resisting the Germans during several fierce and brutal battles.

Bernhard’s regiment was deployed three times on the outside of the Ypern Bogen (Ypres salient). Late 1914, early 1917 and September 1917. Bernhard Kronauer did not live to see Passchendaele’s (‘Third Ypres’) sea of mud of 1917 in which friend and foe struggled to gain or hold a piece of completely destroyed land at enormous cost. The regimental history however mentions that it also wasn’t easy to hold the line in Flanders in 1914. By then Bernhard probably had recovered from the wounds he received in the first months of the war and was back with his company on its first stint in Flanders. The regiment had seen more than three months of intense fighting by then, and the men must have realized that the war would not be over before Christmas, like so many apparently had wished for in August 1914.

11. Kaart
Toeristische kaart, www.flandersfields.be

On Saturday morning we got a visit from mister Benoit Mottrie, the owner of our nice accommodation and chairman of The Last Post Association. Benoit told us a bit about the artefacts in ‘Churchill’s Room’ (bugles, The “Old Contemptibles” Colours, WW1 rifles amongst others) and invited us to join the Last Post ceremony under the Menin Gate at eight o’clock. Although I’ve been to Ypres before a number of times I never experienced the famous ceremony, which is being performed every evening since 1928, apart from 1940 – 1945. We gladly accepted Benoit’s invitation.

After telling him about Krieg 1916, and receiving some good suggestions for promoting the project, I used the opportunity to offer Benoit a copy of Krieg (CD), which he happily accepted.

On our way into town we stopped at ‘The British Grenadier Bookshop’, a place packed with WW1 militaria, books and more. We had a talk with shopkeeper Steve Douglas about Krieg and came to an agreement. Because the album is in German language he was a bit sceptical about selling chances, as there aren’t many Germans stopping by in his shop, but was willing to give it a try. So, as of now a limited number of Krieg copies are available in The British Grenadier Bookshop in Ypres!

The British Grenadier Bookshop, private collection
The British Grenadier Bookshop, private collection

In the afternoon we drove to the northern sector of the Ypres salient. Here, between Bikschote and Langemark, IR 25 held the German line in 1914. The following video was shot on Sunday morning and shows the now peaceful land (apart from some hunter’s gunshots) where Bernhard and his comrades lay more than 100 years ago today. We filmed standing where at the time the French troops approximately were.

Link to the video: Frontline IR 25, 1914

Map, Regimental History IR 25
Map, Regimental History IR 25

After following the Bikschote – Langemark road, where almost exact the German lines ran in 1914, we left Langemark to the north and arrived at the Deutscher Soldatenfriedhof Langemark. This is one of four remaining German military cemeteries in West-Flanders (before 1955 there were more than 70). 44.300 men lie here, including between 450 and 600 students (volunteers) that fell in 1914. Hence the cemetery is also called Studentenfriedhof, a name invented during the Nazi-era.

Entrance Soldatenfriedhof Langemark, private collection
Entrance Soldatenfriedhof Langemark, private collection

Link to the video: Soldatenfriedhof Langemark

German pillbox near Langemark, private collection
German pillbox near Langemark, private collection

On Saturday evening we attended the Last Post ceremony. Hearing about it many times of course, this was the first time I actually experienced the solemnity. Thanks to mister Mottrie David and I, along with a Canadian family, were allowed to stand very close to the people laying the wreaths. To my surprise it felt a bit strange standing there, but I was moved by the sheer amount of people (from many parts of the world) paying their respect to the dead, and realizing this happens every evening. Trying to experience it as intense as possible I only filmed a short sequence: the reveille signalling the end of the ceremony.

Link to the video: Reveille Last Post

Menin Gate by night, private collection
Menin Gate by night, private collection

Link to the website: Last Post Association

We ended our trip with a visit to the German military cemetery at Vladslo on Sunday. This cemetery is known for The Grieving Parents by the German artist Käthe Kollwitz. Kollwitz made the memorial after losing het youngest son Peter on the battlefield of Ypres in October 1914.

At the gate we met Bartel Dhondt who was taking questionnaires for the Flanders Tourist agency (‘Westtour’). We had a nice conversation in which he told us that there aren’t many Germans visiting the cemetery. This made me wonder, also after what Steve Douglas told us at the Grenadier Bookstore, if it is still to painful for Germans to come and visit their ancestors graves. Ypres is a ‘British thing’ for sure, but it would be a good thing in my opinion if more Germans came, so that Versöhnung über den Gräbern (Reconciliation over the graves) can continue here also.

Käthe Kolltwitz’ Grieving Parents is a very powerful anti-war statement. Watching them mourn over the more than 25.000 dead makes one almost feel their pain.

Vladslo German Military Cemetery, private collection
Vladslo German Military Cemetery, private collection