Great War Sites Relating to Hitler

Although outside the stated scope of this website which concerns what's left of the Third Reich within Germany, I thought it might be interesting to add some photos I took whilst cycling along the Great War battlefields for my website Echoes of War:
Hitler reminisced about the places described below in his Hitler's Table Talk (609-610):
When we went into the line in 1916, to the south of Bapaume, the heat was intolerable. As we marched through the streets, there was not a house, not a tree to be seen; everything had been destroyed, and even the grass had been burnt. It was a veritable wilderness.
In the present campaign I got my greatest surprise when I revisited Arras. In the old days it was just a mound of earth. And now— —! Fields filled with blossom and waving corn, while on Vimy Ridge the scars are much as they were, shell- holes and all. I believe it is much the same in the Champagne.
The soldier has a boundless affection for the ground on which he has shed his blood. If we could arrange the transport, we should have a million people pouring into France to revisit the scenes of their former struggle.
Marching along the roads was a misery for us poor old infantrymen; again and again we were driven off the road by the bloody gunners, and again and again we had to dive into the swamps to save our skins! All the thanks we got was a torrent of curses—"Bloody So-and-Sos" was the mildest expression hurled at us.
My first impression of Ypres was—towers, so near that I could all but touch them. But the little infantryman in his hole in the ground has a very small field of vision.
I shall send our people who have been given the task of rebuilding Lübeck to Ypres before they start work. Fifty different shades of tiles, from salmon-pink, through gold to deep violet ! The new Ypres is a city out of fairyland!
A few inhabitants of Fromelles and Fournes hold childhood memories of Hitler’s return in 1940. They recall a motorcade making its way down the Aubers road and stopping, while the leader alighted to inspect an old Great War blockhouse (known to this day as the blockhaus du fuehrer):
About a mile south of Fromelles towards Aubers on the the D141 is this concrete shelter where it is claimed that Hitler spent time whilst serving with the Bavarian Infanterie-Regiment List and even had a plaque stating as much only recently removed.
Hitler in fact visited another site nearby in his tour as conqueror of France on June 26, 1940
According to the sign, the bunker was in the 5th German line during the battle of Fromelles. ‘The trenches and Fromelles were his world’, one former comrade wrote in 1931, ‘what lay beyond didn’t exist for him’. At Fournes, Hitler led the way to what had once been Black Mary’s and the nearby Art-Nouveau bandstand where, on Sunday afternoons, the List Regiment’s band played excerpts from the ‘Merry Widow’ or Der Rosenkavalier. The party also visited the local German war-graves cemetery, where Hitler saluted the graves of Bavarians who fell in May 1915 and July 1916. Among them was that created after a battle that would be called Langemarck by the Germans and First Ypres by the British.


Langemark
The Deutscher Soldatenfriedhof when officially inaugurated on July 10, 1932 and during one of my visits. The total number of soldiers buried or commemorated in this cemetery is 44,234, situated north of Langemark village, about five miles north-east of Ypres. The cemetery started as a small group of graves in 1915 before its official opening. Roughly 3,000 graves are of the Student Volunteers who died in the battle of Langemark in October and November 1914 leading the cemetery to be dubbed Der Studentenfriedhof- the Student Cemetery.
Bronze statue of four mourning soldiers, by the Munich sculptor Professor Emil Krieger. Apparently it "was inspired by a photograph taken of soldiers from the Reserve Infantry Regiment 238, mourning at the grave of a comrade in 1918" shown on the right. The second soldier from the right was killed two days after the photograph was taken.
Holding a picture of Hitler and assembled Nazis standing in the same spot. Hitler arrived at Langemark Cemetery at around 16.30 by which time the site was mobbed by off-duty German troops.

 
   
Hitler, later eulogised as an ‘Hero of Langemarck’, took only a peripheral part in the events of 9–11 November 1914 which created the ‘Langemarck Legend’ when young regiments sang “Deutschland, Deutschland über Alles” as they advanced and took the first line of enemy trenches.’  The visit was prominently featured in the June 17 edition of the Nazi propaganda magazine Illustreiter Beobachter.
Just beside the German cemetery is the Memorial to the Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers of the 34th Division next to the bunker they captured in September 1918 and used as an Advanced Dressing Station. The man put in charge was Lawrence of Arabia's brother. Apparently more men died of drowning than through artillery.

Nearby I found some remaining shells. When farmers find artillery they place it on the side of the road (or in this case, within an electricity pole) and alert the military who then collect it and eventually gather them together to detonate.
Nearby on the main road from Ypres to Bruges, this most impressive memorial at St. Julien commemorates the "18,000 Canadians on the British left [who] withstood the first German gas attacks on the 22-24 April 1915. 2,000 fell and lie buried nearby." This had been the first gas attack of the Great War. "The Brooding Soldier" is almost 11 metres high and displays the bowed head and shoulders of a Canadian soldier in the position of "rest on your arms reversed."
 
Hitler’s 1940 battlefield excursion was part of a grand tour of defeated France, of which an early morning visit (in the company of Albert Speer and the official Nazi sculptor Arno Breker) to the architectural monuments of Paris was the highlight. Court photographer Heinrich Hoffmann turned Hitler’s excursion into a profitable propaganda set piece. The cover of the first edition (600,000) of his Mit Hitler im Westen shows Hitler posing in front of the Eiffel Tower, while other more deceptive pictures suggest that the warlord was leading from the Front during the French campaign. Hoffmann’s book is part travelogue, part propaganda. Its subject is the resolution of unfinished business from 1918, as is made clear in a foreword by Field marshal Keitel:
On the day of the summer solstice in the wood of Compiègne, the Führer erased the disgrace of the Armistice of 9 November 1918. Again I was permitted to be at [his] side during this unique victory campaign of our Wehrmacht . . . not only to seek out the battlefields on which our soldiers have been victorious in this war, but also those on which German men fought and died in the World War of 1914–1918.
 Hitler at the Fromelles junction of the D141 and D22

Throughout the twenties and into the thirties the Nazi propaganda machine had harnessed the support of former frontline soldiers by making an appeal to the spirit of frontgemeinschaft, the community of former frontline soldiers. It was vital therefore that in order to connect with this powerful and numerous group that Hitler was depicted as a bold hero of the battlefront. His own highly selective account in Mein Kampf shamelessly reinforced the legend of Hitler as a fearless warrior who was never far from the frontline trenches and worthy of kameradschaft or fellowship with the band of brothers who formed the frontgemeinschaft. Hitler has been fiercely criticised and has even been accused of hiding the fact that he was a meldegänger. This is certainly not the case:
Hitler in 1940 at his former billet, and the same building today
Hitler clearly refers to the fact that he was gassed in 1918 for the last time. It is fair to say however that this is the only reference to his actual role in the war Despite all of Goebbels' efforts, throughout the twenties and thirties there were constant whispers that the myth of Hitler the bold frontline fighter was a lie; a false concoction created by the Nazi spin doctors. Regardless of all of the Nazi boasts however, Hitler lived under the continual shadow of his opponents' allegations that he was not actually worthy of acceptance into the ranks of the frontgemeinschaft and had no real claim to be a part of the fellowship of his former colleagues. Furthermore he was targeted with the plausible claim that he was in fact nothing more than a cowardly draft-dodger from the Austro-Hungarian army who had spent the first world war out of harm's way far  from the front.
Hitler in front of the church in Montbavin in 1940, hardly changed since
His enemies pointed to the fact that Hitler was not a trench fighter, but actually held a cushy post as a regimental meldegänger (or messenger) who saved his own skin by ensuring that he was never promoted beyond the rank of Private. He was an Etapenschweine (a rear area hog) through and through Hitler easily won his court case; but even after Hitler assumed power the underground gossip continued. Despite his court victory there were still gaps in Hitler's armour and his political opponents were able to continue their whispering campaign against him. However, in 1933 Hitler seized power and the Nazi machine was soon in full swing Former colleagues such as Hans Mend and Korbinian Rutz, who did not toe the party line, soon found themselves in a concentration camp. Others like Alexander Moritz Frey, when the attentions of the SA grew too intimidating, were forced to flee into exile. It was this continuing controversy which lurked on in the background during Hitler's first visit to Flanders in June 1940.
Hitler's painting of the church at Becelaere (Becelaire) and today
That initial visit to the battlefields, which took place on 1 and 2 June 1940, may well have been a spontaneous personal pilgrimage, but it also seems to have provoked a new idea in Hitler's mind. France capitulated on 22 June 1940 and when he returned to France in triumph in late June 1940, Hitler seems to have been determined to finally lay an old ghost to rest. For Hitler, even 26 years, later the questions over his service in the Great War represented unfinished business; it seems  he had a very public point to prove. It was for this reason that Hitler therefore resolved to spend so little time in Paris and so much time in Flanders. He had resolved that he would return to the battlefields of northern France and Flanders and would shamelessly use that second visit to cement his reputation as a member of the frontgemeinschaft community of former front line fighters. In the light of this craving for acceptance we can now understand why Hitler brought with him two former colleagues from the 16th Reserve Infantry Regiment who had fought alongside him in the Great War. On his second visit to Flanders that month

Hitler, Amann and Schmidt visited Riisel, Fournes, Fromelles, then drove through Armentiers to Ploegstreert then once more to Mesen and on Wytschaete and Kammel. The party then stopped in Ypres before driving to Dunkirk via Poperinge The stop over in Fournes allowed Hitler and his comrades to pose once more in the garden of the house in Fournes where the regimental messengers had once been based. The entourage then moved on to inspect the surviving bunkers at Fromelles before driving on through Ypres and on to Dunkirk returning through Poperinge, which had remained in British hands during the Great War. The Führer was serenaded by the music of a German military band.
As planned, the carefully photographed and choreographed visit had found its way into the pages of the propaganda press including cinema newsreels such as Deutsche Wochenschau and the cover of Illustrierter Beobachter, but the rumours concerning Hitler's war service were never dispelled, and today, over one hundred years later, we at last know the truth concerning Private Hitler's war. The second visit was a glorified photo opportunity: Hoffmann's photographs would provide proof of Hitler's return to the scenes of heroic deeds. The visit would then provide propaganda material which would reinforce the party line which depicted Hitler as the bold front line trench warrior and rightful leader of the Nationalsocializter Deutscher Frontkämpferbund which would also bring him closer to finally achieving acceptance into the ranks of the frontgemeinschaft. 
Carruthers (135-136)  Hitler's Propaganda Pilgrimage
Two of the most telling images, placed together on a page, were taken in Fournes. At the top, over the caption Im Quartier 1916, a group photograph shows Hitler and other dispatch runners seated in front of a wall. Below it, in a photo from 1940 set in front of the same wall, Hitler stands with his former sergeant major, now Reichsleiter Amann, and former dispatch runner Ernst Schmidt.
These photographs were taken at Hitler's regimental headquarters in Fournes, now serving as the town hall
Hitler's wartime sketch Shelter in Fournes (considerably touched-up for publication when he assumed power) and video of the shelter today.


In Fournes itself, the most obvious sign of the presence of Hitler's regiment in the village for a year and a half is the German military cemetery in which so many of Hitler's comrades remain buried.
Weber (344) Hitler's First War
On the side of the road is this demarcation stone surmounted by a French helmet. One can still faintly read the legend Kemmel. Granite demarcation stones can also be seen at various locations throughout the Westhoek. First erected during the 1920’s at the initiative of the Touring Club of Belgium, these one metre-high stones are usually crowned with a military-style-helmet and bear the inscription (in three languages): ”Here the invader was brought to a halt”. During the Second World War this inscription was often defaced by the Germans. Nineteen of these stones still remain in the Westhoek, sometimes to be found at the corner of a street and sometimes on the edge of a field.
Hitler in front of the Café-Restaurant Belvédère in Kemmel, a picturesque watchtower built on top of the Kemmelberg in Kemmel in 1889. After the destruction during the First World War, the tower was rebuilt in 1924 in brick, together with an adjoining house and bar. The Belvédère watchtower was protected as a monument in 2004. The complex was completely restored in 2015. Now there is a catering establishment established.
Ypres

Hitler and his entourage entering Ypres via a temporary wooden bridge built by German combat engineers through the Lille Gate, shown on the right after the Great War and with me today.
 On the same road nine decades earlier, the same one Hitler was driven down in 1940. Ypres had been completely flattened during the Great War starting with German artillery from mid November during the First Battle of Ypres which led to fire to buildings in numerous places. The Germans fired incendiary shells onto the city from positions to the north-east, east and south-east of Ypres in which the first serious damage to the buildings of Ypres occurred on November 22, 1914. Two of Ypres' most famous historic buildings, St Martin's Cathedral and the Cloth Hall seen behind me were set on fire by incendiary shells. Scaffolding on the belfry caught fire; ironically this was on the building because it had been undergoing refurbishment of the stonework which was almost complete when the war broke out.  A few months later in mid April 1915 an intensive, deliberate German bombardment started up onto the buildings of Ypres. There was increased activity by German planes bombing Ypres and Poperinge. There was also the arrival of long range, heavy German guns. These guns included a huge 42cm howitzer hidden in the Houthulst Forest to the north of the town. This huge gun was nicknamed “Dicke Bertha” by the German Army and in English consequently became known as “Big Bertha”. Accounts by soldiers say that the shell could be seen, it was so large, and that it sounded like a steam train rushing through the air.  
Although the Cloth Hall had lost its roof for some weeks already the walls were still standing and, up to this point in time, it was used as billeting accommodation for about 1,500 men, the equivalent of two British battalions. But the shelling in late April caused too much danger for this and the building was evacuated by the British.  The bombardment in April 1915 was the prelude to the launch of a German trial gas attack on the Allied Front Line in the Ypres Salient on 22 April 1915. It was the beginning of the Second Battle of Ypres  and the beginning of the total destruction of one of the most beautiful cities in Flanders.  By the end of the Second Battle of Ypres the British Engineers of Second Army were constructing strong-points on the Ypres ramparts as part of a Third Defensive Line. This was called the “Canal Line” and it was located behind the forward defensive lines of the Front Line, the G.H.Q. Line, and the Second Line. The Canal Line ran around the north, east and south of  Ypres, constructed from the Brielen Bridge on the Ypres-Yser canal, bordering the British and French Armies, along the eastern canal bank, around the eastern ramparts of Ypres and joined the Ypres-Comines canal south of Ypres.  Not all the damage to buildings was caused by the Germans, however. The British Engineers blew down the tower of St. Jacob's church located near the eastern ramparts because it was being used by German artillerymen to range their targets on Ypres.  Later in the summer of 1915 an incident occurred with great loss of life when a group of about forty men of the 6th Battalion Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry were buried alive in the cathedral vaults. An intensive German bombardment shattered the ceilings of the vaults and 22 of the men could not be dug out alive and they died on that day. Their graves are close together in the Ypres Reservoir Cemetery in Ypres.  
During 1917 and 1918 the city was continuously shelled by German artillery. By the end of the war there was no building left untouched. Only a tiny number of buildings, walls or façades were still intact. These included the post office in the Rijselstraat, the Biebuyck House in the Diksmudsestraat and a row of terraced façades in the d'Hondtstraat. The medieval town with its historic buildings, centuries of traditions and its pre-war prosperity had been demolished.
        
Hitler driving down Kauwekijnstraat around 16.00, June 1, 1940. Karl Jesko von Puttkamer, in the leather greatcoat with the rank of Fregattenkapitän, is seen conversing with Hitler with SS adjutant Heinz Linge behind on the right. The driver is Erich Kempka.
Constructing the Menin Gate and me in front today.The Menin Gate Memorial commemorates the missing of the Salient, and was designed by Reginald Blomfield with construction completed in 1927. It lists the names of 54,332 men of Britain and the Dominions (apart from New Zealand and Newfoundland) who fell in the Salient and who have no known grave.  The inscription inside the archway is similar to the one at Tyne Cot, with the addition of a prefatory Latin phrase: "Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam – Here are recorded names of officers and men who fell in Ypres Salient, but to whom the fortune of war denied the known and honoured burial given to their comrades in death". The Latin phrase means 'To the greater glory of God'. Both this inscription, and the main overhead inscription on both the east- and west-facing façades of the arch, were composed by Rudyard Kipling.  On the opposite side of the archway to that inscription is the shorter dedication: "They shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away". There are also Latin inscriptions set in circular panels either side of the archway, on both the east and west sides: "Pro Patria" and "Pro Rege". A French inscription translated into English reads: "Erected by the nations of the British Empire in honour of their dead this monument is offered to the citizens of Ypres for the ornament of their city and in commemoration of the days where the British Army defended it against the invader."
The Gate in 1940 under German occupation. Following the Menin Gate Memorial's opening in 1927, the citizens of Ypres wanted to express their gratitude towards those who had given their lives for Belgium's freedom and so every evening at 20.00 buglers from the Last Post Association close the road which passes under the memorial and sound the "Last Post".  With the exception for the German occupation during the Second World War when the daily ceremony was conducted at Brookwood Military Cemetery in Surrey, this ceremony has been carried on uninterrupted since 2 July 1928. On the evening that Polish forces liberated Ypres in the Second World War, the ceremony was resumed at the Menin Gate despite the fact that heavy fighting was still taking place in other parts of the town. During an extended version of the ceremony, individuals or groups may lay a wreath to commemorate the fallen as bands and choirs from around the world may also apply to participate in the ceremonies.
Hitler walking through the memorial's large Hall of Memory containing the names on stone panels of 54,395 Commonwealth soldiers who died in the Salient but whose bodies have never been identified or found. On completion of the memorial, it was discovered to be too small to contain all the names as originally planned. An arbitrary cut-off point of August 15, 1917 was chosen and the names of 34,984 British missing after this date were inscribed on the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing instead. The Menin Gate Memorial does not list the names of the missing of New Zealand and Newfoundland soldiers, who are instead honoured on separate memorials. 
Hitler had twice visited the Menin Gate. The first time was on June 1, 1940, a few days after Ypres was taken. He inspected the damaged monument before travelling on to the German Cemetery at Langemark.  He returned on June 26 where that afternoon he made a short walk with Hermann Goering. Clearly he had been impressed with Ypres.; two years after his visit he declared that he would "send the architects who are assigned with the rebuilding of Lübeck, to Ypres. Fifty different colours of the roof tiles, from salmon to golden and violet. This new Ypres is a fairy town."  Apparently Ypres had not made the same impression on the Kaiser 28 years before.
Hitler's first experience of fighting was in one of the fiercest and most critical engagements of the war, the First Battle of Ypres, when the British succeeded in stemming an all-out effort by the Germans to burst through to the Channel coast. For four days and nights the List Regiment was in the thick of the fighting with the British round Becelaere and Gheluvelt. In a letter to his old Munich landlord, the tailor Herr Popp, Hitler reported that when they were pulled out of the line and sent into rest billets at Werwick, the regiment had been reduced in four days from three thousand five hundred to six hundred men; only thirty officers were left and four companies had to be broken up.
Ypres was damaged by the Germans in the Second World War as well. Here is the Hotel t’Zweerd as photographed by a German soldier in May 1940, and the same site today.
 
 Hitler's car passes the Grote Markt in Menen with the town hall in the background on its way to Geluveld where he saw his first action during the Great War. On the right is my bike outside the German cemetery inside which lie 47, 864 German soldiers, making it the largest in Flanders. The original cemetery was created in 1917.

Poperinghe 

Hitler's column moved on to Mount Kemmel by way of Poperinghe, the primary military centre for British forces located in Flanders, just under eight miles west of Ypres (itself formerly a bitter trade rival). On the right is a photo of the execution post on display in the inner courtyard of the Poperinghe Town Hall. It is apparently that used on May 8, 1919 for Wang Ch'un Ch'ih of the 107th Chinese Labour Corps who is buried at Poperinghe Old Military Cemetery. Sixteen others executed in Poperinge were buried at Poperinghe New Military Cemetery.
Standing in the cell where soldiers waited for their execution "to be shot at dawn" with the post visible through the barred window. The photos on the right show the last words of the condemned still etched onto the walls before the sunrise.

Arras


The cathedral then and now-  from the The New York Times Mid-Week Pictorial, April 19, 1917: “The Present Condition of the Cathedral at Arras: The Cathedral of Notre Dame, while not so ancient as that at Rheims, being begun in 1755, was one of the most beautiful in France. Its destruction is beyond hope of its ever being repaired.”
A British pillbox; behind is the Bayershof German Headquarters near Bayershof (White Chateau, a unique German site located between the villages of Wijtschate and Voormezele consisting of two mine galleries, a mine shaft, a trench system and five bunkers. It is accessed via a footpath which passes through the restored network of trenches. A series of information panels give details of the events which took place here and explain what life at the front was really like. The site was restored in collaboration with the Association for Battlefield Archaeology (www.battlefield-archaeology.be). It was known to the Allies as Croonaert Wood and to the Germans 'Bayernwald' because of the Bavarian troops stationed there - Adolf Hitler served here in 1914-1915, and was awarded an Iron Cross nearby. Private Hitler, serving with the 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment, was lightly wounded here on November 15, 1914 whilst rescuing his Lieutenant. He painted a view from Croonaert." He returned here on June 1, 1940 as Leader of the German Reich.


Displays along the road allow one to compare the panorama then and now from the German positions.
Hitler's painting of a trench in this sector in 1914 and , serif;">revisiting the site in 1940.
The fighting for Bayernwald was the List Regiment’s last major engagement for 1914 and one of the last German offensives of First Ypres. Two days later Falkenhayn called off the battle and this drew to an unsatisfactory (for the Germans) conclusion. Between Becalaere and the commencement of the fighting at Bayernwald, the regiment had been heavily engaged for 18 days. After Gheluvelt, the only men available to replace losses were those returning from wounds.
On 1 November alone, at Bethlehem Farm, the regiment lost 119 men killed, a ravine near Wytschaete being ‘filled with dead and wounded’. Carrying messages, across a landscape exposed to artillery fire, snipers and machine-gunners, dispatch runners were placed in a ‘most dangerous’ situation and many were lost. Hitler remained unscathed. ‘How he succeeded in getting through’, Mend wrote, ‘in spite of the incessant artillery fire, is to this day incomprehensible to me.’ He later expressed amazement at Hitler ‘still being alive and recalled, laughing: “Man, there’s no bullet with your number on it!” A grin was [Hitler’s] only answer.’
Messines
Overlooking the German positions taken by NZ troops to reach the ridge in 1919, showing Irish Farm from the Rossignol Hill 63, and with my students in 2013. The great Mine Battle of June 7 1917 here, in the sector known to the British as Messines Ridge and to the Germans as the ”Wijtschate Bogen,” quite literally made the world shake. 19 mines were detonated under the German lines, causing explosions which could be heard as far away as London. In the beginning, this British offensive was a success. This was the prelude to the ill-fated Third Battle of Ypres.


German pillboxes taken that remain on either side of the monument to the New Zealanders who took the town from the Germans.
The Messines Ridge (New Zealand) Memorial to the Missing is situated within Messines Ridge British Cemetery about five miles south of Ypres.
Hitler had described the outskirts of Messines whilst a soldier in a January 26, 1915 postcard to his landlord back in Munich, Joseph Popps, as "partly flat and undulating and covered with countless hedges and straight rows of trees." He went on to write that "Messines is a village of 2,400 inhabitants, or rather it was a village, for now nothing is left of it except an enormous heap of ash and rubble."

Hitler's painting of the church during the war

Standing inside the crypt where Hitler had been billeted.
Portuguese Military Cemetery
The two Portuguese divisions sent to the Western Front came under British command. They were badly beaten in the first of the German spring offensive in 1918. Besides this military cemetery there is a monument to the Portuguese Army in the French village of Couture in Flanders near the Belgian frontier. The war was not universally popular in Portugal with mobilisation failing top provide any economic boost. The military coups and other political upheavals sparked by the declaration of war continued after 1918, eventually resulting in the Salazar Dictatorship which lasted into the early 1970s. At Paris Portugal had been rewarded with a tiny piece of German East Africa along the northern Mozambique border known as the Kionga Triangle.

In his five months as a dispatch runner, Hitler had never experienced ‘such heavy fire’. His task was to bring messages from the regimental headquarters at Halpegarde through a ‘way that had literally been dug up by shells’ into the Bois du Biez. From there he had to find his way across the dangerously exposed country to the Bavarian assault battalions who were now mixed up with Prussians all the way to the British positions at Neuve Chapelle. Battlefield confusion was adding an extra dimension to the dispatch runners’ load...
Hitler seems to have thrived in this battle, going about his duties with ‘a spring in his step and unworried as always’. While he believed himself chosen by Fate for greater things, he was more than ready to give Fate a helping hand, never neglecting ‘to pick out on the map those points on the way that could be dangerous to him’. He was said to be ‘as cunning as a fox [who] knows exactly when to keep his head down. During a barrage on the position the day before yesterday...no one could have shown more care!’ Even so, the risks were considerable. ‘If anyone is sent out to the trenches today’, one orderly was quoted as saying, ‘he will be lucky to come back. The fire is fearsome. If I am caught today, I can only hope I do not have to suffer for too long.’ Hitler was unperturbed, strapping ‘his dispatch case on so tightly that it would take a day to get it off. He should get a decoration today. However, he has to be careful not to get his head blown off first.’ He did not win a decoration but did confirm his value. Petz stated that ‘when he needed a reliable man for an important report, [he] called for Hitler’: as well as bravery, a good dispatch runner needed ‘intelligence and sharp wits’. After Neuve Chapelle, Hitler’s virtues were ‘well known among the regimental staff’.
A monument to the slaughter is found further south along the D166 to Bethune: Le Touret CWGC and Memorial to the Missing

Above arches within the walkways, and elsewhere are engraved regimental insignia of the units whose men are commemorated here. This huge Memorial is in the form of a loggia lined with panels listing the names of the Missing on one side, and which are open with interspaced columns on the other side. It commemorates those with no known grave who died in the area. In the centre of the memorial, between the walkways, is a grassed area "courtyard" area containing a stone column, with the dates 1914 - 1918 etched on it in Latin numerals. Inscribed above the arches in this courtyard are the names of the battles and actions fought in the area:La Bassee, Festubert 1914, Givenchy 1914/1915, Cuinchy, Neuve Chapelle, Aubers Ridge and Festubert 1915.
In 1915, after a period at Tourcoing, the List Regiment was moved up towards Neuve Chapelle, again opposite British troops. In 1916 they took part in the heavy fighting on the Somme, and in October found themselves near Bapaume. Here on 7 October Hitler was wounded in the leg, and was sent back to Germany for the first time for two years.
Bapaume Post CWGC
This cemetery is right outside Albert to the east along the D929 road and was begun in July 1916 after the village of La Boiselle was taken. Just over 150 men were buried here between then and the end of January 1917, when the cemetery was closed for wartime burials. The location of the cemetery is on the west side of Tara Hill, and another 250 or so graves were brought in after the Armistice, many being men of the 34th Tyneside Division who attacked further along the Bapaume road from here on the 1st of July 1916.
In the futile attempt to save Bapaume, the List Regiment lost 700 men. Not all could be replaced, and those who were, according to Hitler, were supplanted by men of such poor quality ‘that their arrival meant, not a reinforcement but a weakening of our fighting spirit . . . As everywhere, the poison of the hinterland began, here too, to be effective. And the younger recruit fell down completely – for he came from home.’ By this time Monash had calculated that the company strength of the German infantry on the Western Front was ‘only 410,000’. Still, there was no hint of desperation in German reporting. Ludendorff, granting an interview to a Hungarian correspondent, was ‘glad’ that his visitor had ‘gained a good impression of our troops, who’ve been in heavy fighting for months’. Ludendorff dismissed the ability of the Americans to provide ‘significant help in men and material’. ‘We were ready for the Russian steamroller [and] will be ready for America. Our will to victory remains unbroken and we will break the destructive will of the enemy.’German newspapers still maintained that the army was invincible and defeat inconceivable. A month after the ‘black day’, the Morgen- Post described the post-8 August retreat ‘a masterpiece in the history of war’. The Germans had not ‘retired with pleasure voluntarily; it would be mad to pretend so. But militarily it was the only thing to do. Even, as must surely be expected, this has to continue to the Siegfried [Hindenburg] positions and beyond, we have no need to be anxious.’

Hitler's sketch of St. Martin's Church (Sint-Martinuskerk) in Ardooie, after the Second World War and today

Hitler's wartime sketch of Sint-Michiel church in Roeselare, a few miles away, and today.

Notre Dame de Lorette
Notre Dame de Lorette is the name of a ridge, basilica, and French national cemetery northwest of Arras at the village of Ablain-Saint-Nazaire. The high point of the hump-backed ridge stands 165 metres high and - with Vimy Ridge mentioned below- utterly dominates the otherwise flat Douai plain and the town of Arras. The ground was strategically important during the First World War and was bitterly contested in a series of long and bloody engagements between the opposing French and German armies. It was the focal point of the three battles of Artoise which were as costly in French lives as the better-known Battle of Verdun. As with numerous other sites across France, Notre Dame de Lorette became a national necropolis, sacred ground containing the graves of French and Colonial fallen, as well as an ossuary, containing the bones of those whose names were not marked. In total, the cemetery and ossuary hold the remains of more than forty thousand soldiers, as well as the ashes of many concentration camp victims.


 Hitler in front of the 76 metre-high Lantern Tower, containing a light. Inspired by ancient funerary practices, to serve as a "lantern for the dead" intended to watch over the souls of the soldiers. At the far end of the cemetery at Notre Dame de Lorette there is a large Muslim plot with a smaller Jewish plot alongside. On the night of the 7th December 2008 the cemetery was attacked for the third time in two years in which 527 Muslim and Jewish graves were daubed with Nazi symbols and slogans which indicated considerable time and a certain amount of planning. Many of the graves attacked this time had only just been restored after the last bout of vandalism eight months ago.  Arras officials said a second clean-up operation could cost tens of thousands of pounds and take several months.  A council spokesman said: 'This is a foul desecration of a sombre and precious place. We do not want to make graveyards into fenced-in secure areas, but we may need to consider stepping up security around World War One cemeteries to prevent further attacks.'    The 30-acre Notre-Dame de Lorette is one of France's biggest World War One military cemeteries.  Whilst there is of course widespread antipathy towards Muslims, it is notable that the graves are French Empire soldiers – the British Empire Muslims in Arras for example are untouched.  Certainly being liberated by the British and Americans is one thing but to have to admit that French colonial Muslims had a hand in anything is just too much for such people.


Vimy
The same view 90 years apart
The Canadian National Vimy Memorial overlooking the Douai Plain from the highest point of Vimy Ridge, about ten kilometres north of Arras. Carved on the walls of the monument are the names of 11,285 Canadian soldiers who were killed in France and whose final resting place was then unknown. Standing on the monument’s wide stone terrace overlooking the broad fields and rolling hills of Northern France, one can see other places where Canadians fought and died. More than 7,000 are buried in 30 war cemeteries within a 20-kilometre radius of the Vimy Memorial. Altogether, more than 66,000 Canadian service personnel died in the First World War.
On his return to the Front, Hitler found his comrades occupying trenches in a quiet sector on the heights of Vimy. During his absence it had been involved in little fighting, but had endured climatic conditions, on a wind-swept position in that most terrible winter of the war, which were harsher than any the men had known. Hitler, by missing the worst of these months, was living up to his ‘Lucky Linzer’ nickname.
 Hitler's visit on June 2, 1940. The Vimy memorial was apparently Hitler's favourite from the Great War, admiring its focus on peace and sacrifice, rather than the glory of war. In fact, he insisted that German newspapers printed photos of him at the site.  He even went so far as to assign an entire SS unit to protect the area from vandalism, not only from civilians, but from his own army, who may have wanted to destroy the memorial and the surrounding graveyards. By comparison, all the Australian war graves in France from the Great War were destroyed in the Second World War, but the memorial itself remained untouched. Canadians at this time were unaware of this of course, as rumours from the front line told of the memorials probable destruction, with the Montreal Daily Star headlining how "Vimy Memorial Smashed by German Bombers." The undamaged state of the memorial was not confirmed until September 1944 when British troops of the 2nd Battalion, the Welsh Guards of the Guards Armoured Division recaptured Vimy Ridge.
   
My first pilgrimage to Vimy and exactly ten years later

Reims
Hitler at Reims Cathedral, 1940
In the Nazi film Sieg im Westen (1941),

[t]he finale shows Hitler, as triumphator Germaniae, and his entourage strutting through Reims Cathedral. The choral music from "Lieb Vaterland magst ruhig sein" ("Dear Fatherland, Rest Assured") reaches a crescendo. The viewers can now comfortably lean back in their seats. They knew they could rely on the Wehrmacht and its supreme commander Adolf Hitler.
Ironically, it was here that, on May 4, 1945, the “Instrument of Surrender of All German Armed Forces in Holland, in Northwest Germany Including All Islands, and in Denmark” was signed British field marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, on behalf of the Allies, and by a group of German commanders on behalf of Germany, having been authorised by Admiral Karl Dönitz, who had been designated by Adolf Hitler as head of state immediately before Hitler committed suicide.
Also at Reims on May 7, 1945, an Act of Military Surrender was concluded by the supreme allied commander (with U.S. and Soviet commanders present and a Free French commander witnessing) and signed by the German high command. The principal sentence ran simply: “We the undersigned, acting by authority of the German High Command, hereby surrender unconditionally to the Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Forces and simultaneously to the Soviet High Command all forces on land, sea and in the air who are at this date under German control.”

Verdun

The victory monument in June 1940 draped with the German war ensign and today. In 1916 the Germans tried to ’bleed the French dry’ in a battle that lasted for 10 months and which brought France to the verge of collapse. Both sides lost tens of thousands of soldiers. To reduce the pressure on Verdun, a joint Anglo-French attack was launched on the Somme. Tanks were employed for the first time but the offensive was a fiasco. On the first day of the battle alone, the British lost 60,000 men, killed, wounded or missing. By the end of 1916, casualties on both sides were horrendous. 
Between them both sides lost half a million men and how many still lie buried in that charnel soil may never be known. Verdun remained in French hands. For the French it was a magnificent victory, but one that had almost shattered their army. For the Germans it was their first undeniable setback, a heavy blow to the morale of both army and people.
Howard (77) The First World War
 
German victory march past the Memorial to Victory in June, 1940 and during the occupation

Nearby the Monument Maginot, erected to the memory of politician and soldier André Maginot and inaugurated in 1935. Maginot had served in the French army during the Great War and was badly wounded near Verdun – an event depicted in the sculptured group placed in front of the central symbolic shield. Maginot served as Minister of War three times between 1922 and 1932 and was the principal advocate of a new line of impregnable defences against a future German invasion, completed after his death and which bore his name. In the event, of course, the Germans bypassed the Maginot Line in 1940 as shown on the right.

Douaumont
 This nearby village was destroyed during the Great War. Today the Douaumont Ossuary, which contains the remains of more than 100,000 unknown soldiers of both French and German nationalities found on the battlefield, stands high above the landscape. The cemetery here holding the remains of the dead of the First World War was a target again of the Germans in the Second.  

Rethondes
 France surrendered on June 22 in a humiliating ceremony in the very same railroad car that they had made Germany sign the armistice November 11, 1918.
The Compiegne Wagon being pulled into position for the signing of the Armistice
From William L. Shirer's account in Berlin Diary (419–25):
On the exact spot in the little clearing in the Forest of Compiègne where at five a.m. on November 11, 1918 the armistice which ended the World War was signed, Adolf Hitler today handed his armistice terms to France. To make German revenge complete, the meeting of the German and French plenipotentiaries took place in Marshal Foch’s private car, in which Foch laid down the armistice terms to Germany twenty-two years ago. Even the same table in the rickety old wagon-lit car was used. And through the windows we saw Hitler occupying the very seat on which Foch had sat at that table when he dictated the other armistice.
The humiliation of France, of the French, was complete. And yet in the preamble to the armistice terms Hitler told the French that he had not chosen this spot at Compiègne out of revenge; merely to right an old wrong. From the demeanour of the French delegates I gathered that they did not appreciate the difference.
... The armistice negotiations began at three fifteen p.m. A warm June sun beat down on the great elm and pine trees, and cast pleasant shadows on the wooded avenues as Hitler, with the German plenipotentiaries at his side, appeared. He alighted from his car in front of the French monument to Alsace-Lorraine which stands at the end of an avenue about two hundred yards from the clearing where the armistice car waits on exactly the same spot it occupied twenty-two years ago. The Alsace-Lorraine statue, I noted, was covered with German war flags so that you could not see its sculptured work nor read its inscription. But I had seen it some years before – the large sword representing the sword of the Allies, and its point sticking into a large, limp eagle, representing the old Empire of the Kaiser. And the inscription underneath in French saying: “TO THE HEROIC SOLDIERS OF FRANCE ... DEFENDERS OF THE COUNTRY AND OF RIGHT ... GLORIOUS LIBERATORS OF ALSACE-LORRAINE.”

I saw the Führer stop, glance at the monument, observe the Reich flags with their big Swastikas in the centre. Then he strode slowly towards us, towards the little clearing in the woods. I observed his face. It was grave, solemn, yet brimming with revenge. There was also in it, as in his springy step, a note of the triumphant conqueror, the defier of the world. There was something else, difficult to describe, in his expression, a sort of scornful, inner joy at being present at this great reversal of fate – a reversal he himself had wrought.
Now here aches the little opening in the woods. He pauses and looks slowly around. The clearing is in the form of a circle some two hundred yards in diameter and laid out like a park. Cypress trees line it all round – and behind them, the great elms and oaks of the forest. This has been one of France’s national shrines for twenty-two years. From a discreet position on the perimeter of the circle we watch...The time is now three eighteen p.m. Hitler’s personal flag is run up on a small standard in the centre of the opening. Also in the centre is a great granite block which stands some three feet above the ground. Hitler, followed by the others, walks slowly over to it, steps up, and reads the inscription engraved in great high letters on that block. It says: “HERE ON THE ELEVENTH OF NOVEMBER 1918 SUCCUMBED THE CRIMINAL PRIDE OF THE GERMAN EMPIRE ... VANQUISHED BY THE FREE PEOPLES WHICH IT TRIED TO ENSLAVE.”
Hitler reads it and Goering reads it. They all read it, standing there in the June sun and the silence. I look for the expression on Hitler’s face. I am but fifty yards from him and see him through my glasses as though he were directly in front of me. I have seen that face many times at the great moments of his life. But today! It is afire with scorn, anger, hate, revenge, triumph. He steps off the monument and contrives to make even this gesture a masterpiece of contempt. He glances back at it, contemptuous, angry – angry, you almost feel, because he cannot wipe out the awful, provoking lettering with one sweep of his Prussian boot. He glances slowly around the clearing, and now, as his eyes meet ours, you grasp the depth of his hatred. But there is triumph there too – revengeful, triumphant hate. Suddenly, as though his face were not giving quite complete expression to his feelings, he throws his whole body into harmony with his mood. He swiftly snaps his hands on his hips, arches his shoulders, plants his feet wide apart. It is a magnificent gesture of defiance, of burning contempt for this place now and all that it has stood for in the twenty-two years since it witnessed the humbling of the German Empire...

Now we get our picture through the dusty windows of that old wagon-lit car. Hitler and the other German leaders rise as the French enter the drawing-room. Hitler gives the Nazi salute, the arm raised. Ribbentrop and Hess do the same. I cannot see M. Noël to notice whether he salutes or not. Hitler, as far as we can see through the windows, does not say a word to the French or to anybody else. He nods to General Keitel at his side. We see General Keitel adjusting his papers. Then he starts to read. He is reading the preamble to the German armistice terms. The French sit there with marble-like faces and listen intently. Hitler and Goering glance at the green table-top.
The reading of the preamble lasts but a few minutes. Hitler, we soon observe, has no intention of remaining very long, of listening to the reading of the armistice terms themselves. At three
forty-two p.m., twelve minutes after the French arrive, we see Hitler stand up, salute stiffly, and then stride out of the drawing-room, followed by Goering, Brauchitsch, Raeder, Hess, and Ribbentrop.

Hitler and his aides stride down the avenue towards the Alsace-Lorraine monument, where their cars are waiting. As they pass the guard of honour, the German band strikes up the two national anthems, Deutschland, Deutschland über Alles and the Horst Wessel song. The whole ceremony in which Hitler has reached a new pinnacle in his meteoric career and Germany avenged the 1918 defeat is over in a quarter of an hour.
CBS News' William L Shirer reports the French surrender, June 21, 1940
On September 28, 1918, Private Henry Tandey, serving near the French village of Marcoing, reportedly encountered a wounded German soldier and declines to shoot him, sparing the life of 29-year-old Lance Corporal Adolf Hitler.
As Tandey later told sources, during the final moments of that battle, as the German troops were in retreat, a wounded German soldier entered Tandey’s line of fire. "I took aim but couldn’t shoot a wounded man," Tandey remembered, "so I let him go." The German soldier nodded in thanks, and disappeared.
Though sources do not exist to prove the exact whereabouts of Adolf Hitler on that day in 1918, an intriguing link emerged to suggest that he was in fact the soldier Tandey spared. A photograph that appeared in London newspapers of Tandey carrying a wounded soldier at Ypres in 1914 was later portrayed on canvas in a painting by the Italian artist Fortunino Matania glorifying the Allied war effort. As the story goes, when British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain travelled to Germany in 1938 to engage Hitler in a last-ditch effort to avoid another war in Europe, he was taken by the führer to his new country retreat in Bavaria. There, Hitler showed Chamberlain his copy of the Matania painting, commenting, "That’s the man who nearly shot me."