LANGEMARCK 'birthplace of the Second World War'

Langemarck is a small village five miles to the north of Ypres in Belgium. Like all the villages in that district, it has a war cemetery filled with the dead from successive Anglo-German battles in 1914-17. In outward appearance it is indistinguishable from scores of others. Indeed, the graves of 25,000 unidentified German soldiers bear no comparison to the imposing monument at the nearby Menin Gate, where the names of 40,000 unidentified British casualties are inscribed. Yet, in the opinion of a leading military historian, 'It is, in a real sense, the birthplace of the Second World War.'

For, unknown to many modern visitors, Langemarck shelters the last resting place of the comrades of a young Austrian volunteer whom providence spared for greater deeds.

German cemetery at Langemarck, Belgium

Hitler, an unsuccessful art student and draft-dodger from the Austrian army, had listened with rapture in a Munich crowd to the declaration of war on 1 August 1914, and had immediately signed up for service in the German Army and arrived on the Western Front in October, just in time for the first battle of Ypres. In this way he became a witness to the terrible Kindermord, the 'Massacre of Innocents', where tens of thousands of half-trained German recruits, mainly eager university students, were cut to pieces by the steady firepower of professional British soldiers. It was the first great slaughter of Germans, amply revenged at Passchendaele and on the Somme. Hitler never forgot it.

Hitler's 'supreme experience' in the trenches, where for four years he lived the charmed life of a 'regimental runner', probably fired the pathological drive of his subsequent career. Tormented by the fate of his dead and mutilated comrades, and by a huge German effort that led only to defeat, he set out to avenge their deaths; to humiliate Germany's conquerors in their turn; and to make Germans feel once again proud, superior, hateful, ruthless. His vow of vengeance struck a common chord with millions of Germans.

Langemarck, symbolises the essential psychological link between the First World War and the Second, between the slaughter of Ypres and Verdun, and that of the London Blitz, Warsaw and Stalingrad.
See also: a myth was born