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Langemark-Poelkapelle (Municipality, Province of West Flanders, Belgium)

Last modified: 2022-03-30 by ivan sache
Keywords: langemark-poelkapelle | bikschote |
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Flag of Langemark-Poelkapelle - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 4 November 2006

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Presentation of Langemark-Poelkapelle

The municipality of Langemark-Poelkapelle (7,774 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 5,253 ha; municipal website) is located 10 km north of Ieper. The municipality of Langemark-Poelkapelle was established in 1976 as the merger of the former municipalities of Langemark (including Bikschote since 1970) and Poelkapelle.

Langemark-Poelkapelle is, unfortunately, mostly known because of the First World War. Like most of the villages in the region limited by Ieper, Westrozebeke, Passendale and Houthulst, the villages of Langemark-Poelkapelle were completely destroyed, so that even the roads were no longer visible. Most of their inhabitants fled to France and it was once believed that nobody could ever settle back in the region.
After the fall of Antwerp on 9 October 1914, the Belgian troops withdrew, along with their British and French allies, behind a line made of river Yser and of the Ieper-Yser canal. On 7 October, the Germans nearly reached Ieper but they were stopped on the Katsberg and repelled to the canal. They seized Ieper on 14 October. Poelkapelle, Madonna and Bikschote were occupied by the Germans, whereas Langemark and Sint-Juliaan were not. During the "First Ieper Battle", the German Kinderregimenten (Childrens' Regiments) attacked Langemark, to no avail. The frontline stabilized during the winter from the canal to Steenstrate, with a wide curve around Ieper known as the Ypres Salient. On 21 April 1915, the front was settled by Belgian, French (including colonial troops), British and Canadian divisions. The next day, the Germans experimented for the first time a new weapon, the poison gas. The gas was released from some 6,000 bottles grouped in batteries of 20-40 bottles each, which represent one bottle per meter of front line. The attack caused a breach of 6 km wide in the frontline and allowed the occupation of Langemark and of the Pilkem ridge.

The first attack on Langemark was the opportunity for the German propaganda to create the so-called Langemarck myth. Quoting Jonathan Harwell, Williams College:

The myth of Langemarck is based on a single report from the German High Command on 11 November 1914. This report was repeated on the front pages of newspapers across the country. It read:
"We made good progress yesterday in the Yser sector. West of Langemarck, young regiments broke forward with the song Deutschland, Deutschland, über alles against the front line of enemy positions and took them. Approximately 2000 men of the French infantry line were captured and six machine guns were captured."
This account, in all probability, was not true. Most historians agree that there was never such a singing regiment of youth. At most, students made up 20% of the regiments in action that day, and it seems unlikely that they sang anything in the heat of battle, much less a patriotic hymn. In fact, the battle did not even take place at Langemarck, but rather near the town of Bixchote; the only reason anyone has offered for the error in the account is that Langemarck sounds more Germanic than the strangely spelled Bixchote. The High Command often produced false reports, under the belief that high morale was necessary to offset the material disadvantages of the German effort, and this appears to have been one such morale-boosting effort.
Nonetheless, this myth was to prove very important for Germany after the War. Langemarck was referred to more than almost any other battle. The myth (whether it was fictional or real is not really important) mobilized the emotions associated with youth, powerful emotions in a German attempting to rebuild itself after a devastating defeat. During the Weimar Republic, Langemarck was a rallying cry for those who placed their faith in the German spirit. Meetings were held; pilgrimages were made; books, poems, even musical pieces were written. This rhetoric became increasingly associated with the conservative Right, especially the National Socialists. One writer claimed in 1932 that "National Socialism and 'Langemarck' are one and the same." The sacrificial deaths of students were seen to have their fulfillment, even their resurrection, in the party of Hitler, who himself claimed to have served at Langemarck. Soon after the Second World War began, the military issued a communiqué reporting that "the Reich war flag is waving [again] over the monument to the German youth at Langemarck, the scene of the heroic struggle in 1914." Hitler himself soon made a pilgrimage to the site, paying his tribute to those whose legacy he believed himself to represent.

The French pilot Georges Guynemer crashed in Poelkapelle in 1917, but the exact circumstances of his end are still not known. Guynemer succeeded on 4 September 1917 Captain Heurtaux as the leader of the Cigognes (Storks) fighter squadron. He was already a legendary pilot, with 53 officialy approved wins. Guynemer had a premonition of his death ("This is bound to happen, I will not come through.") However, knowing that the hierarchy had planned to withdraw him from the frontline and employ him as an instructor, he took off on 11 September 1917 on his Spad XIII Vieux Charles for a patrol over Langemark with Bozon-Verduraz. Around 9:25, he spotted Lieutenant Kurt Wissermann's Albatros over the village of Poelkapelle and went into a dive down to it. Bozon-Verduraz spotted eight Fokkers and lured them to him in order to help his leader, but he never saw him again. The Gazette des Ardennes reported that Guynemer had been shot down on the north-west of the southern cemetery of Poelkapelle. The Germans claimed to have bury him on the cemetery of Poelkapelle; in November 1917, they retracted, saying the funeral could not have been made because of the bombing. The rumor spread and all kinds of loose explanations were given: Guynemer indeed landed behind the German lines and was kept prisoner, Guynemer crashed in the North Sea. It was even alleged that Bozon-Verduraz had deliberately shot his leader.
The mystery was solved by Air Commodore Collishaw in 1967. Collishaw found that Guynemer had been flawn over by a group of German bombers; a burst shot by one of these planes seems to have killed Guynemer and cause his dive to Wissermann's Albatros. Collishaw also learned that Guynemer's fall had had several witnesses. A German military doctor and two soldiers were warned by civilians and could pick up Guynemer's papers; they noticed that he had been hit by a bullet in the forehead, a bullet in the shoulder and several bullets in the legs. They could not do more because they were attacked by three Camel bombers involved in a British bombing of the area. The next day, the German regiment was sent to Cambrai and the transfer of the doctor's report was postponed.
In the French historiography, Guynemer is placed along with several other pilots whose body was never founded (Nungesser and Coli, Mermoz, Guillaumet, Saint-Exupéry), which significantly contributed to the legends associated with him.

[After François Pernot. Catalogue of the exhibition Guynemer, un mythe, une histoire, 1997.]

The German military cemetery of Langemark is known as the Studentenfriedhof (Student's cemetery). There are 44,061 soldiers resting, included c. 12,000 non identified and 3,000 students from the voluntary corps, who gave the name of the cemetery.
The Welsh poet Ellis Humphrey Evans (1887-1917), better known under his Bardic name of Hedd Wyn (in Welsh, "white peace" or "blessed peace") is honoured in Langemark by a plaque awarded by the municipalities of Langemark-Poelkapelle and Ieper. Evans was killed on 31 July 1917 at the battle for Pilkem Ridge, the same days as the poet Francis Ledwidge. He spent most of his life as a shepherd in the farm of Ysgwrn. He won four Eisteddfod Chairs for his poems. An eisteddfod (from Welsh eistedd, sit) is a traditional Welsh literature, music and performance festival, dating back to the 12th century and revived in the 18th century. Evans was posthumously awarded the Bardic Chair at the 1917 National Eistedfood for his poem Yr Arwr (The Hero), written in the awdl verse form; the Western Mail reported:

Instead of the usual chairing ceremony the chair was draped in a black pall amidst death-like silence, and the bards came forward in long procession to place their muse-tribute of englyn or couplet on the draped chair in memory of the dead bard hero.
And Evans remained known as "the Bard of the Black Chair". The bard's story was related in the movie Hedd Wyn (1992, nominated for Oscar) by Paul Turner

[After BBC - North Wales Arts]

Ivan Sache, 4 November 2006

Flag of Langemark-Poelkapelle

The flag of Langemark-Poelkapelle is vertically divided red-blue with the municipal coat of arms overall.
According to Gemeentewapens in België - Vlaanderen en Brussel [w2v02], the flag, adopted by the Municipal Council on 18 June 1987, is prescribed by a Decree adopted by the Executive of Flanders on 13 October 1987 and published in the Belgian official gazette on 16 September 1988.

arms are "Per pale, 1. Gyronny of eight or and azur inescutcheon gules a chief or a lion passant surmounted dexter by the letters 'C.I.L.' all sable, 2. Quarterly, 1. and 4. Gules a double-headed eagle argent 2. and 3. Fessy of six gules and or".
The left part of the shield represents the arms of the old domain of Cleven, C.I.L. meaning Cleven in Langemark, whereas the right part of the shield represents the arms of the old domain of Gruijterzale, which belonged to the family Joigny van Pamele. The old town of Pamele was was incorporated to Oudenaarde long time ago; the lord of Oudenaarde and Pamele descended from the Counts of Loon and used their arms.
Langemark was originally granted arms by Royal Decree on 26 October 1955.

Arnaud Leroy, Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 4 November 2006

Former municipality of Bikschote

The village of Bikschote (581 inhabitants in 2006; 557 ha) forms the westernmost part of the municipality of Langemark- Poelkapelle. Bikschote means a place with wooden walls separating private properties (schote) located near a brook (bik; in modern Dutch, beek).
During the First Battle of Ypres (19 October-22 November 1914), Bikschote, the westernmost village seized by the Germans, was abandoned by its inhabitants. The village, eventually reconquerred on 28 September 1918 by the Belgian army, was then completely destroyed. The St. Andrew church (photo, 1915) was rebuilt in 1922-1924 in Neo-Gothic style by the architect Marcel Hocepied.

Krant van West Vlaanderen, 24 December 2011, presents (with color photo) the new flag of Bikschote, designed by Kaatje De Boe, Stefaan Cuvelier, Sylvie Vanhoucke and Eddy Vanacker, member of the local circle Orde der Bikschotenaren.
The flag is, seemingly, in proportions 10:7, blue with a coat of arms outlined in white and surmounted by the name of the village in white capital letters. The arms are "Azure a wooden wall or in base a fess wavy argent".

According to Eddy Vanacker, the coat of arms is a modern rendition of the village's arms depicted on a stained glass window of the parish church, part of a series of five pieces commemorating the First World War. The village's coat of arms is shown in the lower left part of the 5th window, hold by an angel kneeing in front of St. Andrew, represented in the middle of the scene. Accordingly, the village's arms were already known in the 1920s (or were designed for the commemorative purpose), but I have not found any data on their official adoption.
The "warm dark blue" color represents the charm of the village. The yellow wooden wall symbolizes a bright and safe haven in turbulent times. Together with the white wavy stripe representing a brook, it recalls the etymology of the village's name; the arms are therefore canting, forming a rebus of Bikschote.

Ivan Sache, 4 February 2012