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History of the Belgian military cemeteries

 

 

The decree of September 5, 1917, determines that the Belgian Nation provides perpetual military cemeteries in Belgium to the soldiers of the Belgian and Allied Armies deceased in battle. These cemeteries were at that time under the supervision of the Minister of War.

 

After moving back and forth a few times between the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Defence in the course of the 20th century, the powers and responsibilities for the military cemeteries were finally transferred to the Ministry of Defence as from 2004.

 

On July 28, 2008, Flemish minister Dirk Van Mechelen, by ministerial decree, granted the status of protected monument to 15 military cemeteries in Flanders.

 

With this decision the outlook of the cemeteries must remain unchanged from that day on.

Another consequence of this decision is that the status of  perpetual cemetery is thereby reinforced.

 

About half of the Belgian casualties of war were repatriated to their place of origin and became reburied at the honorary site (Carré Militaire) of the local graveyards or municipal cemeteries. These honorary parks have been excluded from the evaluation as a protected monument and are only valued in that respect at a later stage in the overall assessment of a specific cemetery. That is why the military cemetery of Bruges, since it is part of the municipal cemetery as a whole, and therefore also very valuable, was not included among those military cemeteries that have become protected monuments. But for the whole of Bruges cemetery, includung the military section, a separate protection filing is under way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Belgian military cemeteries usually have a tight symmetrical construction pattern, with a brick frontwall, finished with bluestone and decorative elements, a flagpole with tricolor, a memorial cross or other religious symbol and a wooden shelter house which also contains the floor plan, the register and visitors book. In 1925 a standard tombstone was designed by architect Fernand Symons: bluestone decorated with curls and a bronze nameplate with the data of the deceased. Unless the relatives did not want it, the original wooden crosses or shrines such as the so-called hero-tribute-stones, were replaced by the standard type. Of the approximately 800 original hero-tribute-stones today still a considerable number are in place.

 

The places where the various military cemeteries are located in the interior of the country usually refer to the military operations that took place in the area. Such places as Wandre, Ougrée, Boncelles (Liège), Champion (Namur), Halen, Lier, Sint-Margriete-Houtem, Veltem-Beisem and Eppegem all have military cemeteries. In Ramskapelle, Keiem and Houthulst in West Flanders huge battles were faught. The victims were buried on the spot, as soon as the military situation allowed. The place where medical facilities or hospitals have been installed, such as Westvleteren, Hoogstade, Oeren, Steenkerke, Adinkerke and De Panne also needed a military cemetery. After the war, our prisoners of war, civil and political victims of war, that died in prison camps in Germany were repatriated and regrouped in Leopoldsburg were they are resting in the military cemetary.

The large garrison towns, Antwerpen, Liège, Gent, Brugge, Mechelen, Namur and Brussels, as well as the municipalities of Elsene and Schaarbeek had military hospitals where the wounded and sick soldiers were transferred after the war at the close of the field hospitals. The municipal cemeteries of these cities have large military sections. For example, on Schoonselhof cemetery in Wilrijk over 750 military and civilian victims of the First World War are buried.

"More than ninety years after the Great War, the memory of this horrific trench warfare and World War II are still alive and current. It is therefore important that the cemeteries and the graves of an entire generation of young people are standing symbol for the horrors and futility of war. Not only to remember but also to extract lessons for the future. The protection of the Belgian military cemeteries - and later the military cemeteries of other powers - confirms the enormous social relevance.

I hope that this protection more than ever will be a start, for the continued and unwavering commitment to the preservation of our war heritage. That it may also constitute a starting point for new initiatives, for example, an approach to make young people aware of the privilege to live in a free and prosperous Flanders ", said Minister Van Mechelen on July 28, 2008.

 

 

Click here for:

Statistics of the photographed graves on Belgian military cemeteries

 

 

 

SOURCES

 

"The Belgian military cemeteries, an additional task of the division for infrastructure ". Published by the Institute for Veterans NIOOO.

 

The surfaces of the various military cemeteries, data from the Institute for Veterans NIOOO.

 

Quote Minister Dirk Van Mechelen appeared previously on the website www.dirkvanmechelen.be. This website is now apparently offline.

 

 

 

 

 

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