Mont-de-Huisnes German war cemetery, Huisnes-sur-Mer, France

From the sterility of the Normandy American Cemetery to the colours of the Commonwealth’s Bayeux War Cemetery, I was completely unprepared for the Mont-de-Huisnes German war cemetery.

A total of 11,956 people lie here. Men – German soldiers fallen during the fighting – but also women and children.

Of all those here, only 58 are unknown, their markers reading EIN DEUTSCHER SOLDAT – A GERMAN SOLDIER. That’s a very low percentage. Remarkable really.

Nine bronze plaques on a marble wall each reading EIN DEUTSCHER SOLDAR except one that reads B. RICAUX

Embedded in a 30-m-high hill is a vault extending over two circular floors, each floor containing 34 crypts. Each crypt houses the bones of 180 dead. A stone cross marks the centre. It’s all a tad surreal.

The last time I was in an ossuary was in Naples – and it was nothing like this.

Large cross stands in grass surrounded on boths ides with two-floor structure, each floor a covered gallery with 34 crypts

Bronze plaques are etched with the pertinent details: name, rank, and the dates that bookend any life. Some had flowers.

A bronze plaque on a marble wall that reads FRIEDRICH FILBRANDT OGEFR *4.5.1922 +16.8.194 the last number is obscured by a white plastic lilly in a green plastic holder

Others had the ubiquitous poppy, immortalised in the poem by WWI army surgeon Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae – In Flanders Fields.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
        In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
        In Flanders fields.

Bronze plaque on a marble wall behind which sits a wooden cross with a red paper poppy in the middle under which is stencilled the words IN REMEMBRANCE. The plaque reads WALDEMAR DRACHENBERG GEFR *3.8.1923 +12.3.1943

The occasional one went a step beyond the bare necessities by adding a photograph. I wondered if this was done by the family perhaps? I thought perhaps it might be rank but from what I’ve read, GEFR (Gefreiter) is equivalent to a private and today, is usually promoted to an OGEFR (Obergefreiter) within six months. I tried to find out more about Viktor Kepes, but no luck. The ribbon suggests he might have been Hungarian. If anyone has any ideas of how I might go about it, let me know.

A sepia photo of a man in a suit and tie in an oval frame over a bronze plaque with the inscription VIKTOR KEPES GEFR. *3.3.1899 +4.10.1945. Below is a straw wreath wrapped in a ribbon of Green White and REd at the bast of which are three white roses

published an article in 2018 in the International Journal of Military History and Historiography in which she writes:

After the Battle of Normandy, one of the primary concerns in the region was what to do with the bodies of the former occupiers: the German war dead. As the Allied graves registration units left Normandy, local French leaders were responsible for the care of German war graves until the German War Graves Commission (Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge, VDK) took over maintenance responsibilities in the mid-1950s and officially inaugurated them as VDK sites in the early 1960s.

I can only begin to imagine the work that went into gathering all those remains and bringing them to their final rest in this one place.

The remains come from the western quarter of France and the Channel Islands. Before entering the building, a series of slabs in the stairs recall the names of the cities and islands from which those who now rest here came.

I read a quotation on the wall in the entryway by Nobel Peace Prize Laureat Albert Schweitzer:

The soldiers’ graves are the greatest preachers of peace.

Why don’t we learn?









@ 2024 Mary Murphy