1917, Total War in Flanders

1917

In the footsteps of Georges Guynemer (FR)

Georges GuynemerFascinated by anything mechanical, Georges Guynemer (1894-1917), the son of a retired officer from Compiègne, was determined to become a flyer. After he was rejected as a volunteer for the army when war broke out in 1914, he was nonetheless accepted for service as an aviation mechanic with the French forces. He was soon able to make his way up to pilot. He scored his first aerial victory in July 1915, for which he was awarded a medal. Following Verdun and the Somme, Guynemer moved with his Combat Group N° 12 to Dunkirk, from where the group flew missions to support the Third Battle of Ieper.

By the time Guynemer arrived in the Ypres Salient in July 1917 to take part in the Third Battle - la bataille des Flandres – he had already shot down 48 enemy aircraft, a feat which had made him something of a celebrity. In the skies over Flanders he scored a further five victories, until the fatal day of 11 September 1917, when Guynemer himself was shot down, somewhere above Poelkapelle, probably by the German pilot Kurt Wissemann. The ceaseless bombardments meant that his body was never recovered. A number of contradictory statements about the circumstances of his crash mean that his death has remained a mystery and the man himself has become a legend.

On 8 July 1923, a monument to the memory of this most famous of French First World War fighter 'aces' was inaugurated in the centre of Poelkapelle.
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Day programme

  • 09.45 – 10.45:
    • Guynemer memorial
      Guynemer Pavilion, Langemark-PoelkapelleThis monument honours the memory of the French pilot Georges Guynemer. On top of the monument stands a stork, which refers to the 'Escadrille des Cigognes' - the Stork Squadron, the unit to which Guynemer belonged.
      Guynemerplein - 8920 Poelkapelle (Langemark-Poelkapelle)
       
    • Guynemer pavilion
      Georges GuynemerThis pavilion (currently under construction) is devoted to the person of Georges Guynemer. In addition to a permanent display, from 3 June 2017 there will also be a temporary exhibition, which will tell visitors more about the French contribution to the Third Battle of Ypres and the role played by military aviation during the Battle of Passendale. The part played by the French forces in what was largely an Anglo-Saxon offensive was nonetheless significant. Even though the French Army was in deep crisis in 1917, its more cautious approach allowed it to make important advances toward Houthulst Forest. 1917 was also the first year of the war in which aircraft of all kinds were used on a truly massive scale. The role of the air force evolved from its initial task of simple observation to become an integral part of the machinery of total war.
      Brugseweg 126-128 - 8920 Poelkapelle (Langemark-Poelkapelle)
       
  • 11.15 – 11.45:
    • Drie Grachten (Three Canals)
      Drie Grachten in HouthulstIn Merkem, a name stone marks the 'Drie Grachten' site, a place where three canals meet. There are no longer any wartime remains here, but from 1914 to 1918 it was the location of an important advanced post. In November 1914, French Zouaves and German infantry fought for possession of this spot. The German attack failed when one of the Zouaves, who had been taken prisoner and was being used as a human shield to mask the German advance, cried out:' For God's sake, shoot! It's the Boche!' From 3 June 2017, an information module at the site will tell the story of the destruction of the 'Drie Grachten' post by French artillery during the run-up to the Third Battle of Ieper. The module also focuses on the storming of the position by a battalion of the 'Fusiliers Marins' (Marine Fusiliers). Autochrome colour photographs - very rare for that time - ensured that this minor local victory did not pass unnoticed.
      Drie Grachtensteenweg - 8650 Merkem (Houthulst)
  • 12.00 – 12.20:
    • Carrefour des Roses (Rose Crossroads)
      Carrefour des RosesIn 1929, French veterans unveiled a monument at 'Carrefour des Roses' to remember their comrades who died during the gas attack on 22 April 1915. They are commemorated with authentic monuments from their home region: a 16th century stone cross, an apple tree from Calvados, a dolmen and small menhirs from Brittany.
      Langemarkseweg – 8900 Ieper
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  • 12.30 – 13.00: 
    • Saint Charles de Potyze French Military Cemetery
      St-Charles de PotyzeDuring the First World War a school stood near this site. The classrooms were used as a medical aid post to treat wounded French troops. Those who died were buried in the adjoining garden. The number of these burials grew until there was eventually a large cemetery. Many of the graves were destroyed by shellfire later in the war. This is now the last resting place of some 4,200 French soldiers, 616 of them in a mass grave. As such, it is the largest French war cemetery on Belgian soil. 69 of the casualties were of the Islamic faith, as can be seen from the headstones with the horseshoe-shaped tops that mark their graves. 
      Zonnebeekseweg 385 – 8900 Ieper
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  • 13.00: lunch
     
  • 14.45 – 15.45: 
    • Monument aux Soldats Français (Monument to French Soldiers)
      Monument aux soldats françaisSince 1932, the top the Kemmelberg (Mount Kemmel) has been graced by a memorial column to the memory of the many French soldiers who died near here. Most of them were killed in April 1918 during the Battle of Mount Kemmel. This 'Monument aux Soldats Français' depicts the Roman goddess of victory, Victoria. As a result, the monument is often referred to locally as 'Den Engel' (The Angel). Victoria looks out over the French mass grave at the foot of the hill.
      Kemmelbergweg - 8956 Kemmel (Heuvelland)
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    • Kemmel French Military Cemetery and Ossuary
      At the bottom of the western slopes of Mount Kemmel there is a French military cemetery, containing four mass graves which are the last resting place of 5,294 French soldiers. Only 57 of them are identified and their names can be found on the central obelisk. This cemetery testifies to the large French presence in Flanders during the First World War and remembers in particular those who died during the Battle of Mount Kemmel in 1918. From this spot, you can also enjoy a magnificent panoramic view.
      Kemmelbergweg - 8956 Kemmel (Heuvelland)

 

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