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.'
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.