This post-war stero-card shows some of the ruins of central Ypres in 1920. In fact it shows some of the rubble and walls of the Cloth Hall with one of the Menin Gate lions in front. The sign among the rubble reads:
THIS IS HOLY GROUND.
NO STONE OF THIS FABRIC MAY BE TAKEN AWAY,
IT IS A HERITAGE FOR ALL CIVILISED PEOPLES.
It was at this time that the future of Ypres was still under discussion; Winston Churchill put forward the idea of preserving it in its wartime state and foresting the old battlefields. The people of Belgium rightly wanted their land back and did not want to reside inside a museum so this never happened, but the rebuilding of the city was not complete until the 1960s.
Continuing with the images from the collection of post-war stereo-cards today’s photograph shows ‘Gouzeaucourt Cemetery’.
Gouzeaucourt is a large village on the Hindenburg Line battlefields reached by the British in early 1917 and fought over in the Battle of Cambrai that year and in much of the fighting of 1918. There are a number of cemeteries in the area but a good clue here is the grave visible towards the front, where a name is clearly visible. Research shows this is the grave of L/Cpl B.S. Allen of the 2nd Lincolnshire Regiment who died here on 2nd April 1917 and is buried in what is now Gouzeaucourt New British Cemetery.
The cemeteries remained in this original state well into the mid-1920s and in some cases well into the 30s. The majority of the original crosses were burned when replaced with headstones but some families came to claim them and others did so by post; many exist as war memorials in parish churches around Great Britain.
I recently acquired a small collection of stereo-cards from around 1920 which were images taken by a British photographer who toured the battlefields at this time. They give a fascinating insight into what the battlefields looked like in this aftermath period and some of them will feature on the blog this week.
This image is taken in the main square in the town of Péronne, a small town on the Somme used as a headquarters by the Germans from 1914-17, the British in 1917-18 and retaken by the Germans in March 1918 until captured later that September. The ruined building behind was the town hall used as a headquarters by the Australians after the capture of Péronne in September 1918 and they remained the street in front ‘Roo de Kanga’ – the local mayor officially renamed the street with that name in 1998 on the 80th anniversary of the liberation. Under German occupation before 1917 the town hall once bore a sign in German which read “Nicht argern nur wundern!” (“don’t be angry only marvel!”) and which is now in the Historial museum in the town. The tank is likely to be a MKIV or MKV, both used in the fighting around Peronne in 1918.
The young man in the image is likely to be the photographer’s son as he appears on other photographs that will appear this week.