Australians on the Western Front 1914-1918

The Australian Remembrance Trail in France and Belgium

You are here:
Print this page Reduce font size Increase font size

Ieper (Ypres) – Belgium

Nearby site: Deutscher Soldatenfreidhof 1914-1918, Vladslo

Location: About 40 minutes drive from Ieper, Vladslo German war cemetery is about three kilometres north-east of Vladslo, near Diksmuide, Belgium. Artist Käthe Kollwitz’s tribute to her dead son, the statues known as ‘Die Eltern’ (The Parents), stand at the other end of the cemetery from the entrance lodge.

Latitude: 51.070648 (51° 4' 14.3" N)
Longitude: 2.930496 (02° 55' 49.7" E)

German Soldiers’ Cemetery

The Deutscher Soldatanfriedhof (German Soldiers’ Cemetery) near the village of Vladslo is virtually a mass grave. The remains of more than 25,644 German soldiers are here.

Musketier Peter Kollwitz, Imperial German Army, is one of them. Originally buried at Esen, Peter’s remains were moved to Vladslo, with thousands of other soldiers, in the mid–1950s.

Entry, Vladslo Deutscher Soldatenfriedhof

Entry, Vladslo Deutscher Soldatenfriedhof (Vladslo German Soldiers’ Cemetery), Vladslo. [DVA] ... Enlarge photo: entry, Vladslo German Soldiers’ Cemetery

Plaque inscribed 'Deutscher Soldatenfriedhof Vladslo 1914-1918'

Name plaque, Vladslo Deutscher Soldatenfriedhof (Vladslo German Soldiers’ Cemetery), Vladslo. [DVA] ... Enlarge plaque: ‘Deutscher Soldatenfriedhof Vladslo 1914-1918’

Peter Kollwitz, age 19, died on 22 October 1914 when his unit was attacking Belgian defences at nearby Diksmuide. A Belgian officer graphically described these desperate German attempts by young, often untrained, German recruits:

The enemy has concentrated many fresh troops opposite Dixsmuide and given the order to take the town, cost what cost. Scarcely an assault has been beaten off when they arrive again with ever–increasing strength. What have they been promised to let themselves be killed in such large numbers. What strong drinks have been poured out to give them such a wild courage. Drunk from blood, with devilish faces and howling like beasts, they charge again and again, falling over the heaps of dead, trampling down the wounded with their heavy boots. They are mown down by the hundreds but are coming on again. Some of them are able to reach the breast–works where it comes to cruel hand to hand fighting, striking with rifle butts, sticking with bayonets. Skulls are smashed, bodies are torn apart; but all in vain, nowhere are they able to break through. Eleven times in the northerly and easterly sector, fifteen times in the southerly sector, the waves are smashed to death.

Unnamed Belgian officer, quoted in Major and Mrs Holt’s, Battlefield Guide to the Ypres Salient, London, 1997, p.213

Stone crosses in pairs between rows of flat grave marker stones

Mass graves and ornamental crosses, Vladslo Deutscher Soldatenfriedhof (Vladslo German Soldiers’ Cemetery), Vladslo. [DVA] ... Enlarge photo: mass graves, Vladslo German Soldiers’ Cemetery

German prisoners, 1917

German prisoners captured by Australians in the Battle of Broodseinde, Belgium, October 1917. [AWM E00877] ... Enlarge historic photo: German prisoners, 1917

View of Vladslo Deutscher Soldatenfriedhof

Looking towards Käthe Kollwitz’s statues ‘Die Eltern’, Vladslo Deutscher Soldatenfriedhof (Vladslo German Soldiers’ Cemetery), Vladslo. [DVA] ... Enlarge view: Vladslo German Soldiers’ Cemetery

Inscribed square stone grave marker

Mass grave marker with soldiers’ names, ranks and dates of death, Vladslo Deutscher Soldatenfriedhof (Vladslo German Soldiers’ Cemetery), Vladslo. [DVA] ... Enlarge photo: mass grave marker, Vladslo German Soldiers’ Cemetery

German cemetery, 1918: broken wood crosses amid mud and dead trees

German cemetery, Geluveld, Ypres, Belgium, May 1918. [AWM H13361] ... Enlarge historic photo: German cemetery, 1918

These desperate and costly actions – the Battle of the Yser – became known by the Germans as the ‘Slaughter of the Innocents’. To avoid a breakthrough along the Ijzer (Yser) River, the Belgians eventually opened the sea defences and flooded the area between Diksmuide and Nieuwpoort. The German advance into Belgium was finally halted at a spot indicated by a ‘Demarcation Stone’ at Diksmuide which King Albert of the Belgians unveiled on Easter Sunday 1922.

In 1917, Australian tunnelling and artillery units helped defend the ‘Yser line’ on the North Sea coast at Nieuwpoort, the very end of the Western Front. A lone Australian artilleryman, Gunner Edwin Ernest Wheeler, who died in this area on 24 August 1917, lies buried in Ramscappelle Road Military Cemetery not far south of Nieuwpoort. Wheeler seems to have had no close family in Australia and on embarking from Melbourne for overseas service gave as his next of kin a stepsister living in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, England.

Gallery: Australian tunnelers at Nieuwpoort, 1917
– click images to enlarge

Enlarge gallery image 1: Australian tunnelers, 1917 Enlarge gallery image 2: Australian tunnelers, 1917

Enlarge gallery image 3: stepped trench, Australian tunnelers, 1917 Enlarge gallery image 4: Australian tunnelers, 1917

Australian tunnelers at Nieuwpoort

Image 1: Australian tunnelers fitting up bunks in the tunnels under the dunes near Nieuwpoort-Bain, Belgium, November 1917. [AWM E01166]

Image 2: Australian tunnellers observing a shell burst near the dressing station on the road leading from Koksijde–Bain to Nieuwpoort–Bains, Belgium, November 1917. [AWM E01262]

Image 3: Australian tunnellers constructing the sandbagged trench leading to the entrance of a tunnel near Nieuwpoort–Bain, Belgium, November 1917. [AWM E04506]

Image 4: Australian tunnellers at the entrance of a tunnel in the sand dunes near Nieuwpoort–Bain, Belgium, August 1917. [ASM E04632]

Aerial view: Nieuwpoort, 1917

Aerial view of Nieuwpoort, Belgium, where the Western Front met the North Sea, June 1917. [AWM A02658] ... Enlarge aerial view: Nieuwpoort, 1917

View of Nieuwpoort-Bain pier (1)

The North Sea, Nieuwpoort–Bain pier, Belgium. [DVA] ... Enlarge: view of Nieuwpoort-Bain pier (1)

View of Nieuwpoort-Bain pier (2)

The North Sea, Nieuwpoort–Bain pier, Belgium. [DVA] ... Enlarge: view of Nieuwpoort-Bain pier (2)

View of Nieuwpoort-Bain pier (3)

The North Sea, Nieuwpoort–Bain pier, Belgium. [DVA] ... Enlarge: view of Nieuwpoort-Bain pier (3)

Dunes and ruins at Nieuwpoort-Bain, 1917

The dunes and ruins at Nieuwpoort–Bain, 1917. [AWM E01901] ... Enlarge photo: Nieuwpoort–Bain 1917

Sea shore with distant pier, Nieuwpoort-Bain, 1917

The pier at the mouth of the Yser River, Nieuwpoort–Bain, 12 August 1917. [AWM E04633] ... Enlarge photo: pier 1917


Two carved stone statues, 'father' and 'mother' kneeling in grief

Käthe Kollwitz, ‘Die Eltern’ (The Parents), Vladslo Deutscher Soldatenfriedhof (Vladslo German Soldiers’ Cemetery), Vladslo. [DVA] ... Enlarge ‘Die Eltern’ statues, Vladslo German Soldiers’ Cemetery

Peter Kollwitz was one of the many German soldiers in Vladslo cemetery who died between 16 and 31 October 1914 in those futile attacks on Belgian positions during the Battle of the Yser. The dozens of flat marker stones, each containing a number of names and dates of death, are testament to the tragedy.

At the other end of the cemetery from the entrance lodge stands Käthe Kollwitz’s tribute to her dead son, the statues known as ‘Die Eltern’ (The Parents). This powerful work speaks of the lasting effects of death in war on those at home.

Gallery: the ‘Die Eltern’ statues (The Parents)
– click images to enlarge

Enlarge gallery image 1: view of 'Die Eltern' mother figure Enlarge gallery image 2: view of 'Die Eltern' mother figure Enlarge gallery image 3: view of 'Die Eltern' mother figure

Enlarge gallery image 4: view of 'Die Eltern' mother figure head detail Enlarge gallery image 5: view of 'Die Eltern' father figure Enlarge gallery image 6: view of 'Die Eltern' father figure

Enlarge gallery image 7: view of 'Die Eltern' father figure head detail Enlarge gallery image 8: front view 'Die Eltern' figures

Käthe Kollwitz, ‘Die Eltern’ (The Parents), Vladslo Deutscher Soldatenfriedhof (Vladslo German Soldiers’ Cemetery), Vladslo. [DVA]

Stone

Stone, Vladslo Deutscher Soldatenfriedhof (Vladslo German Soldiers’ Cemetery), Vladslo. [DVA] ... Enlarge photo: stone, Vladslo German Soldiers’ Cemetery

After Peter’s death, Käthe Kollwitz said to a friend: ‘There is in our lives a wound which will never heal. Nor should it.’

The stone parents are kneeling, facing the cemetery. The father clasps himself tightly while the mother hangs her head in grief. Käthe and her husband, Dr Karl Kollwitz, brought the statues personally to Belgium. Of their last visit to Peter Kollwitz’s grave and the statues, she wrote:

We went from the figures to Peter's grave, and everything was alive and wholly felt. I stood before the woman, looked at her – my own face – and I wept and stroked her cheeks. Karl stood close behind me – I did not even realize it. I heard him whisper, ‘Yes, yes’. How close we were to one another then!

Käthe Kollwitz, quoted at www.rogallery.com/Kollwitz/Kollwitz–bio.htm

Herring gull

Herring gull, Nieuwpoort–Bain, Belgium. [DVA]