Blitzkrieg and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission by qxx16491


									Blitzkrieg and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission

On 10 May 1940, the Germans began their invasion of the Low Countries. The
invasion was called ‘Blitzkrieg’ or ‘lightning war’ and was sudden and unexpected.
The Commission had almost 550 staff in France and Belgium at this time, tending
the graves and memorials of the fallen of the First World War as well as a small
number of the Second World War.

On 15 May, Captain Haworth, in charge of the Commission’s Belgium Area Office
in Ypres, gave his staff leave to evacuate their wives and children. It had been
planned to evacuate via Oostende but this proved impossible and Haworth made
arrangements for families to leave Europe via France. On the 18th, 250 men,
women and children were waiting for transport outside the Commission’s school
                                               in Ypres.

                                             However, the buses which had been
                                             procured to take the staff and their
                                             families to France were
                                             commandeered by the French Army.
                                             Captain Haworth had only seven
                                             cars to get his men and their
                                             families out of Belgium. Single men
                                             were sent to Le Havre on bicycles.
                                             Eventually, Haworth managed to get
                                             help from two RASC lorries and the
                                             families were able to flee, only to
                                             have further transport issues when
                                             they reached France. By any means
                                             necessary, the families made their
                                             way to Calais and at 1pm on the 27
                                             May, the evacuees were safely in

In France, the Commission was slower to react than it had been in Belgium.
There was some confusion and by the time a withdrawal was attempted, ordered
movement was impossible. The order to leave was not given until 20 May, when
parts of Boulogne were bombed to ruins by the Germans. Many staff in remote
areas made individual bids for escape, undertaking harrowing journeys to the
coast. The last refugees took until 6 June to reach England.

In a fortnight, the Germans had overrun or were threatening almost all of
Belgium and France.

Some staff and families did not escape. Of the 540 staff in France and Belgium,
206 failed to get to England. By March 1942, 159 men were known to be interned
and 36 at liberty. 11 men were either dead or unaccounted for. Some staff joined
or assisted the resistance movements. Several of those who had been captured
died later in captivity.

During the Second World War a mutual agreement was in place between the
Germans and Allies that all war cemeteries of the First World War, regardless of
nationality, would be cared for with due respect. Some were caught in the
crossfire but the damage to First World War cemeteries and memorials was much
less than had been anticipated. Still, at the end of the war in 1945 the
Commission faced a massive challenge. Repairs had to be carried out to the few
cemeteries and memorials damaged during the fighting, to the First World War
sites which, while unaffected by the war, had faced the ravages of time and, of
course, new headstones and memorials had to be erected to commemorate the
casualties of the Second World

Throughout the victory
celebrations, staff returned to
their posts, to damaged homes
and harsh post-war conditions.
Striving to carry out their work
despite the extreme difficulties
they faced, they worked
tirelessly to restore and create
fitting places of rest to those
who gave their lives in the two
world wars. The beautifully
maintained sites all over France
and Belgium are a tribute also to
a team of highly skilled and
dedicated workers who strove for
perfection in the most adverse conditions.

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