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War cemeteries in Belgium after WW I

Updated: Jan 21, 2022

November 11th 1918. The end of hostilities on the fronts of World War I. Around 70 million men had been mobilized. Nine million soldiers had died. Thirteen million civilians had died. A war that was fought on many fronts. After the war, there was great interest in these battlefields. Survivors revisited the places were they had fought. Parents visited the places were there sons had been placed to rest.

Especially for the English, the region of the Ypres Salient, Flanders Fields, became a site of pilgrimage. This region was relatively easy to reach from the United Kingdom, and was one of the main theaters of the Great War. It was the site of one of the deadliest campaigns of the War, the Battle of Passchendaele, with almost half a million casualties.

And visitors needed guidance. One of the most successful publishers of battlefield guides was the Michelin company, and in fact, these guides were the direct predecessors of the now famous Michelin Green Guides.

But there were more publishers trying to make business out of battlefield tourism. The map below was published by Marco Marcovici, a publisher from Brussels.

War Cemeteries Map

The map of the Yser and West-Flanders war cemeteries shows the location of America, English, French, Belgian, Italian and German cemeteries. There is a large emblem of a Roman soldier carrying a sword with the word PAX (peace) engraved in it.

The map is on a scale of 1:125.000, and was intended to be used as a road map. The nationality of each cemetery is indicated with an icon. Most graves are British. There is one Italian cemetery on the map: 81 graves of Italian soldiers are located the Belgian military cemetery in Houthulst Forest, north of Ypres . These are the graves of Italian prisoners of war who died whilst working as laborers for the Germans as Prisoners of War.

There are much more cemeteries on the map than nowadays exist. Many smaller burial sites have been merged in later times. This has also been the case for German burial sites. The 76 German cemeteries shown on the map have been merged after WWII into 4 large sites: Hooglede, Vladslo, Langemarck and Menen.

Detail of the Passchendaele region. Tyne Cot Cemetery is nr 172


There are three vignettes of architectural items: the Menin Gate at Ypres, the British memorial near Ploegsteert, and the British memorial at Zeebrugge. The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing was build between 1923 and 1927, and is dedicated to the British and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the in the Ypres region, whose bodies were never found or identified. The monument was unveiled on 24 July 1927.

Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing at Ypres

Detail of the Ypres region

The British Memorial at Ploegsteert was erected for the missing Commonwealth soldiers who died in Southern part of Flanders Fields. It was inaugurated on 7 june 1931.

British Memorial at Ploegsteert


Detail of the Ploegsteert region

The St George Memorial at Zeebrugge commemorates the British Naval attack on Zeebrugge in 1918. It was inaugurated on 23 april 1925 by the Belgian King Albert I. This memorial was demolished by German Occupation forces in 1942.

The St George Memorial at Zeebrugge

Detail of the Zeebrugge region

These vignettes help date the map: since the vignettes appear to be lithographed after photographs, the map is likely produced after 1931.

Marco Marcovici

There is little known of the publisher of the map, Marco Marcovici. The little information that is available has been collected by Marc Constandt and David Stuyck, who curated the exhibition The Mystery of Marco Marcovici in the Belgian village of Middelkerke in 2019. I am very grateful to David Stuyck who sent me a copy of the very informative brochure that accompanied the exhibition. All information below has been derived from this beautiful publication (Het mysterie Marco Marcovici - uitgever, auteur, polyglot; Marc Constandt & David Stuyck, published by Jean-Marie Dedecker for the Counsil of Middelkerke, 2019).

Marco Marcovici was born in Romania in 1873, and migrated to Belgium in 1901. He started a postcard publishing company in Brussels, that mainly published cards on commission from local businesses, like hotels and restaurants. He became well known for his postcards of ruined Belgian cities. In fact, in order to be closer to his customers, he opened a branch of his firm at Ostend in 1919. In 1921, the city of Ostend paid Marcovici to publish a tourist guide of the city, and (together with the Belgian tourist board) to campaign for the Belgian Coast in the city of Nice, France.

Besides the production of photographic postcards, Marcovici also authored guides to master the English language, wrote articles (mainly on Romania), and published tourist guides. Usually, his publications were labeled 'Marcovici, Editeur Bruxelles'. The address of his firm changes from Avenue Stephanie to Boulevard Adolphe Max. But the interest in postcards was waning. And probably for this reason he even expanded his business to other kinds of souvenirs.

I found the above image on the internet. It shows that Marcovici expanded his business with souvenirs and gifts. Vases made from opale, decorated with touristic sights, flowers or in 'a modern fashion', are prominently advertised: Vases Opalina. As can be observed on the war cemetery map, by the time it was published, Marcovici used Opalina as the new name for his publishing firm. Additionally, he describes himself as promoter for the Belgian Tourism Board. I have not come across other publications from Marcovici published under the name Opalina. A 1930 guide to the Belgian centennial festivities in Liege for instance, does only show the name Marcovici, together with a logo-like 'Marco' that he frequently used.

Although nowhere on the map a reference to the cartographer is made, it is likely that Marcovici himself is not the author of the map. A 1935 map of the World Exhibition in Brussels published by Marcovici states that the cartographic image was made by De Rouck. This is most likely René de Rouck, who started his cartography business in 1928 in Belgium. This firm is still the leading cartographic company in Belgium. It is not unlikely that the war cemetery map is also made by René de Rouck.

The cemetery map is illustrated with a large drawing of a Roman soldier with the sword. Marcovici may have drawn cartoons for postcards himself, but whether the illustration om this map is by him, remains unknown.

It did not end well for Marco Marcovici. His firm bankrupted in 1937. Had Opalina been a new firm name chosen out of desperation? Something he hoped would bring new life to a firm in bad weather?

One year later, on 4 february 1938 a small item appeared in the newspaper Le Soir:

"Marco Marcovici, born in 1873, living at boulevard Emile Jacqmain in Brussels, committed suicide by swallowing the contents of a vial containing a corrosive agent. His remains have been transported to a morgue."

It is a strange phenomenon in 20th century cartography: the little we often know of the lives of the people responsible for these gems. Marco Marcovici is one of those people. Probably a bit of a household name in his time, but know completely forgotten.

He did produce what is to me one of the most touching maps I own. A map that shows the graves of war victims from both sides. A map that show the original sites of most cemeteries, before the large centralization after WWII. We see the locations of the major battles, just by looking were the bodies were laid to rest

One can almost visualize a Belgian country road in the early 1930s. An elderly couple in a car, him driving, and she with this map on her knees, guiding her husband to the grave of their son.

This post would not have been possible without the research into the life of Marco Marcovici by Marc Constandt and David Stuyck.



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