[Image]  The Rev. Dr. DANIEL HÖRNEMANN, OSB  

Found at Last
The search for a German victim of World War 1

Theodor Hörnemann, Railwayman, Grenadier,
born Sept. 3rd 1893 at Coesfeld (Westphalia),
died of his wounds July 24th 1917 in France

Theodor Hörnemann was a Prussian soldier
and belonged to the 7th Company of
The Queen Elizabeth's Garde-Grenadier-Regiment No.3.

The Fate of a young Coesfeld Railwayman and Soldier

The first time I came across the name "Theodor Hörnemann" was when I got an old copy of a 25th Jubilee-book of the Coesfeld railwaymen's association (1904-1929). This book lists 54 (though only 49 names are given) Coesfeld railwaymen who were killed during World War I and "remained on the Field of Honour". One of them was Theodor Hörnemann - a name which of course took my interest at once. That booklet unfortunately did not give any further information and nobody in my family knew anything about him after all that time. Only when the German War Grave Commission presented its homepage on the Internet I was able to search any further. I was surprised to get an immediate response, when I entered the name "Theodor Hörnemann":

"To be remembered - Hörnemann Theodor - Grenadier - date of death 24.07.1917. Your relative Theodor Hörnemann is resting in the war cemetery of Sissonne (France). His final burial place is marked Block 7 Grave 863. This War Cemetery is being looked after by the German War Graves Commission."

All the documents of the Prussian Army were kept in Berlin. Unfortunately they were completely destroyed during an air-raid by the Allied forces in spring 1945. Only the papers of the first aid posts, field-dressing-stations and hospitals survived. The "Krankenbuchlager" in Berlin finally sent me a copied page from the Prussian list of losses during the Great War.

Now I wanted to get more information about the fate of my Great-Uncle on my Father's side. In the municipal archive of Coesfeld I managed to find some soldiers' files of the Great War, though damaged by flood-water during World War II, but still readable. Only very few of these army-documents survived and I was surprised to find Uncle Theodor's among these few. It reads as follows (additional information from the records of the Krankenbuchlager is inserted):

Personal Record of Hörnemann, Theodor from Coesfeld, Wertchenstrasse No.24, taking part in the War 1914/...

Province Westphalia, County of Coesfeld, City of Coesfeld

03.09.1893 born at Coesfeld

Father: farm-worker Bernhard Hörnemann (+11.03.1901), Mother: Maria Elisabeth Hörnemann, née Üllenberg, from Gaupel. [His Brothers and Sisters were: Bernhard, Karoline, August Gerhard, Maria, Elisabeth].

Roman-catholic, unmarried, Prussian, living at Coesfeld (Westphalia), Wertchenstr.24

Railway-worker with the Royal Prussian State-Railway [very probably starting work after school when he was 14 years old].

10.12.1914 He joined the Prussian Army at the age of 21. One was considered an adult in those days at the age of 21, he was conscripted, drafted, inspected and got a lasting membership in a certain regiment, which was by way of building up traditions. Theodor Hörnemann had to do his duty as a soldier and became a Grenadier in The Queen-Elizabeth-Garde-Grenadier-Regiment No.3, 7th Company. The Garde only took on people of certain height and build, whom they thought fit for this special historical regiment (founded 1860). He got his training at Berlin-Charlottenburg barracks before going to the front.

21.07.1917 He was delivered to the Field Dressing Station No. 8 at Chivres in France with the diagnosis: severe wounds in his head and in his right upper-arm through artillery-shells.

24.07.1917 He died at the Western Front in France, at Chivres-en-Laonnois in the Field Dressing Station No. 8 around 8 p.m. because of his severe wounds.

(See the official documents: German Lists of War losses No. 1577, dated 11.08.1917, page 20031. Prussian list of losses No. 908).

The Royal town-office at Coesfeld entered his death under No. 116 into the death-register, written on Aug. 22nd 1917. For the time being Theodor Hörnemann was buried in the soldiers' cemetery at Liesse, Notre Dame, in a grave marked No.524, then he was finally re-interred at the military cemetery at Sissonne (Northern France), not far from the road D977 Laon-Sissonne. The former Field Dressing Station Chivres-en-Laonnois was also situated near that road.

None of the still preserved documents is without faults. The dates on the Personal Record as well as the Prussian List of War Losses all contain wrongly spelled names, places and dates, which is probably due to the amount of people killed in the Great War with the ensuing masses of paperwork and the lack of knowledge of foreign languages (French).

My first visit at the Military Cemetery Sissonne

When I at long last got more information about the fate of my Great Uncle Theodor it was my wish to visit his final resting place in France. The summer-holidays of 2000 gave me that chance. After some painstaking study of maps and guide-books I finally found the small village Sissonne. Of course I wanted to see the place and I drove in the direction of Laon/Northern France. The sign-posts with the names Cambrai, Arras, Reims, St. Quentin brought images from books and films about the Great War to my mind. St. Quentin - that was the only place my father ever mentioned, who himself never got to know his uncle, the brother of his father. "St. Quentin - that's where Uncle Theodor was in World War I", that was about all my father (born 1924, died 2002) knew about him. One probably didn't talk much about the fallen uncle in his family - one perhaps simply accepted his irrevocable and inevitable fate. My grandfather August Gerhard Hörnemann was a railway-man like his three year older brother and also had to join the army. He left his home-town Coesfeld on May 18th 1916 for Harburg on the river Elbe and began his service with the navy. He was demobbed on December 23rd 1918 again at Harburg, arrived home safely and got back to being a railway-man, finishing as a locomotive driver with the title Oberlokomotivführer around 1956. As a reminder of his navy-time he carried a blue anchor tattoed on his arm. He certainly knew what the fate and the death of a soldier meant, what it was like to lose a comrade. Nonetheless one rather kept silent then talked about all that at home. Very probably emotions were not expressed freely in those days. Then everyday's life had to continue, there were already ever so many other problems which mattered more than the memory of a victim of that lost war, even if the deceased belonged to the same family. That World War and its victims - terrible as it all was - became more and more a part of the past, had to become part of the past to enable people to live on. What personal memories were like and how people treated them, one can nowadays only speculate. For some time the family kept a print of an angel looking after a dying soldier hanging on the wall with Uncle Theodor's name written in the empty space where also tenthousands of other names were to be written for other bereaved families. That picture somehow disappeared during the many years after his death.

The French sign-posts reminded me of various battles during the Great War. Laon came closer. The industrialized outskirts of the town round the hill-foot were rather ugly, but the more one followed the winding road up-hill, the more beautiful it became, till one was able to get a close look at the mighty cathedral with its blunt twin-towers on the hill-top. From there one had a fantastic view of the wide country-side. Somewhere in the distance between lonely villages and many corn-fields there must be Sissonne military cemetery. Leaving the big town of Laon I drove into the countryside. The cemetery is situated at some distance to the village of Sissonne, next to a prohibited military-area. After the Great War the French did not want German cemeteries close to their towns and villages and grudgingly made room for them in isolated places. After so many years I was the first to visit his burial-place. During World War I and the difficult times thereafter surely no member of our family had either the knowledge of languages, the time or the money for a journey to France. In the middle of Sissonne I first found only a French war-memorial for the dead of that village. It was adorned with lots of fresh flowers. Then I discovered a sign-post indicating the German and British war-graves. Several kilometres outside the place in solitude finally the incredibly large cemetery came into view. On this field 15,000 dead German soldiers are resting in peace, most of them in individual graves with a metal cross for four each. But there are also some mass-graves. Scattered among the huge amount of black metal crosses are some white head-stones with the star of David for the German Jewish soldiers. The crosses had to be black as a sign of defeat and disgrace. Next to the German cemetery - carefully divided from it with strong hedges! Not even the dead are allowed to lay together in a single cemetery...- is the smaller British cemetery with lots of red roses planted on the graves and several hundred white stones showing names, dates, regiments oder in case of an unknown dead just the inscription created by Rudyard Kipling: "A Soldier of the Great War Known Unto God". Kipling himself lost his only son in the Great War.

Uncle Theodor's grave

It was a very strange experience to slowly walk across the heather and grass from one grave to another on this absolutely quiet and remote cemetery. Then among thousands of crosses to find my own family-name written on black metal. Found at last - after so many years! A moment of dense silence, an intense atmosphere with its own intimacy. One grave. The grave I was searching for. The grave of a human being killed so long ago, not known to me personally, nonetheless somehow close. A prayer - for this man and for all the thousands who were not allowed to lead a long life and to grow old. On my way to the graves I had collected some flowers and plants from the road-side, because nobody of my family had ever been able to lay down a wreath on Uncle Theodor's grave. On July 14th 2000 - after 83 years when my grand-uncle fell and was buried there - I stood for the very first time on that vast field of war-graves. My poppies and corn-flowers brought a colourful note into this field of black crosses, green grass and heather.

It moved me deeply to stand where none of my family was able to stand in all those years, to put down some flowers and to say a prayer. The history of ten million victims in the Great War suddenly wasn't anonymous anymore, but had a very personal touch. And all that carnage for nothing! After my visit I searched for further information about my great-uncle who was killed only 23 years old. On the internet I found the regimental history at a second-hand book-dealer: in the long lists of the dead of the Königin-Elisabeth-Garde-Grenadier-Regiment Nr.3 I discovered Theodor Hörnemann's name. The big military volume also described the events at the Western Front in his sector. The Königin-Elisabeth-Garde-Grenadier-Regiment Nr.3 was part of the 5th Garde-Infanterie-Division of the 7th German Army since the beginning of 1917 at the Western front in France. There my great-uncle took part in the battles at the Chemin des Dames, the "Way of the Ladies", an elevated and formerly beautiful road-way of 25 kilometres, on which the dames of King Louis XV's court once strolled about. The 7th company participated since July 10th 1917 in the heavy and bloody fight for the "Winterberg" (Plateau de Californie). It was supposed to prevent a break-through of the allied forces. Ten-thousands of English, French and German soldiers bled to death in close combat and through artillery-shells on this "mountain of horror". Hardly any other point on the long-stretched fronts of the Great War suffered so many tragic conflicts as the Chemin des Dames - and still no result and no decision were achieved. On July 21st 1917 Theodor Hörnemann was wounded in action and brought to the field-hospital No. 8 at Chivres. The diagnosis was: severe wounds through artillery shells in his head and in his right upper-arm.

Three days later, on July 24th, around 8 p.m., he succumbed to his severe wounds in the very basic field hospital at Chivres-en-Laonnois in the small village church and the adjoining farm-buildings.

The very extensive history of his regiment gives his name in a list of all those who found the "death of a hero" at the infamous Winterberg. First he was buried in the military cemetery at Liesse-Notre-Dame, with the grave-number 524, but in 1919 many graves were opened and the human remains of German soldiers were transfered and concentrated at the large cemetery of Sissonne, not far from the road to Laon. In addition to the informations on paper I wanted to get a personal impression of the last places in Northern France my great-uncle went to on his earthly journey. Thus in the summer 2001 I went to Liesse-Notre-Dame which is a small sanctuary of Our Lady and a place of pilgrimage. I visited the ancient church and the cemetery. In a small shop I even managed to get some very old postcards of Great War vintage from the shopkeeper after some rummaging in his backrooms. But - not surprisingly - there were no traces of a German military cemetery of 1917 left in the small town.

At Chivres-en-Laonnois, where the Germans kept a field-dressing-station in 1917, the only reminder of the Great War nowadays is an unexploded German shell, which after all those years is still stuck in the brickwork of the church-tower of Saint-Pierre close to the church-clock. An old farmer told me: "If only my Granddad were still alive, he saw all these poor wounded boys in the church close to our farm. He even managed to learn a little German and was on friendly terms with the 'enemy' who ceased to be an enemy, when one saw those boys suffer from all kinds of terrible wounds received on the battle-fields."

The former field-dressing station in the Church at Chivres-en-Laonnois

The shell in the steeple

What was it all like in those days of the Great War? What did my great-uncle see and experience in France, how did he suffer? There is a lot one can only guess. The witnesses of that time all have died by now. There is nobody anymore who knew my great-uncle personally. It wasn't even possible to find a photograph or a prayer-card in his name what with the disastrous events of World War II in his home-town Coesfeld. All that remains is some papers in the Krankenbuchlager Berlin and the Stadtarchiv Coesfeld, a black metal cross with his name and the names of three comrades in a cemetery in faraway France, his name in the regimental history. But also in his home town Coesfeld his name is still to be read. It is engraved in stone together with all the other victims of World War I, sons of Coesfeld. In the middle of the busy town there is a small island of peace and quiet: the War Memorial with a massive statue of the unknown dead soldier. The War to end all wars was just the reason for another, worse war. War is no solution to human problems, it just will create more. The dead soldiers of past wars still are reminding us: See that it never happens again!

Black crosses at Sissonne Military Cemetery

For a direct link to the author of this article, email Daniel Hörnemann

Text and photographs Copyright ©  Daniel Hörnemann, February, 2003

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