Saturday, October 22, 2016

Finding Private Edouard Broeckx (1918)

As we are approaching November 11, Armistice Day in Belgium, I wanted to dedicate a blog post to my great great grand uncle, soldier Edouard Broeckx.
On August 14, 1986 Edouard was born as the second of three children from my 3-times great grandparents Hendrik Broeckx and Joanna Herteleer. Before his birth, his parents were living in the Belgian city of Mol where father Hendrik was a painter. But then, when Edouard was just two weeks old, the family moved to the city of Antwerp. His baby sister Joanna was born in Antwerp, when Edouard was two and a half years old. His older sister Maria was five years old then.

On August 4, 1914, only ten days before Edouard reached the age of 18, German forces invaded neutral Belgium and only two months later, Edouard stopped his job as a mechanic and joined the Belgian army. Edouard was active in the army for almost the entire duration of the Great War. Only from the very end of March 1917 untill mid-July 1917 he spent three and half months in a hospital, to return to the trenches after he recovered.
During the last weeks of the Great War, in the morning of September 28, 1918, the Belgian Army started a liberation offensive. One of the first goals was to take back the town of Houthulst in the province of West Flanders. The point of departure was a little village called Kippe which is about one mile to the north of Ypres. At 2.30 AM Belgian artillery started shooting the German troops. The shooting lasted for three ours before the Belgian troops started moving further. Another thirty minutes later Edouard got killed by hostile fire, in the village of Merkem, as heavy fighting continued.

Only four days later, on October 3, 1918, Edouard was burried in a temporary grave at about 27 yards from the road between Kippe and Nachtegaal. Many soldiers were later exhumed to be moved to their final resting places, however, for unknown reasons, the grave of Edouard could no longer be found...

In May of 1920, the following letter was sent to my 3-times great-grandmother by the Belgian Army:
Dear Mrs. Broeckx,
I have the honour to inform you that your mourned son, soldier Broeckx Edouard of the 3rd line regiment, who fell gloriously on the Field of Honour, will be included in an upcoming Royal Decree, by which he will posthumously be awarded the Cross of Knight in the Order of Leopold II with Palm, as well as a War Cross. As soon as this Decree is published in the Belgian Offical Gazette, these decorations will be handed over to you during an upcoming official ceremony.
On August 2, 1922, my 3-times great grandfather, Hendrik, sent a letter to the Belgian Army to ask why they still had not been able to find the remains of his son. He also asked if perhaps there had been a mix up with Corporal Jan Broeckx who had been burried at the Antwerp cemetery Schoonselhof, however, the army responded that this did not appear to be the case. 

Grave of Corp. Jan Broeckx in Antwerp
Corp. Jan Broeckx was a native from the city of Turnhout and was born as a son of a shoe maker in December 1894. At the time of his birth, his family had already been living in Turnhout for at least fifty years, meaning that there is no closeby relation with the family of Edouard Broeckx that came from the Belgian city of Mol.

The searching for the grave of Edouard continued, and even Edouard's father attended several search actions in February and March 1923. Sadly, the grave was never found again and a death certificate was eventually issued in the second half of 1923.
Schoonselhof Cemetery in Antwerp, Belgium
I haven't found any records mentioning possible reasons why the grave of Edouard couldn't be found. Maybe he was actually exhumed but not properly identified. Perhaps Edouard is amongst the many unidentified soldiers burried in Antwerp...

Four unknown soldiers burried in Antwerp, Belgium

The city of Antwerp did erect a memorial in honour of the Belgian soldiers burried at the Schoonselhof Cemetery.

Memorial in honour of the WWI soldiers burried in Antwerp

Now if we return to September 1918, one day after Edouard Broeckx died on the battlefield, the Belgian army had advanced from Merkem to Houthulst and was able to recapture the forest there, however, not without suffering a lot of casualties. As silent witnesses of the battles in and around Houthulst, stand the many headstones in the Belgian Military Cemetery in Houthulst. Also there, several unknown soldiers have been burried. Perhaps Edouard was one of the soldiers who eventually got interred at the Houthulst cemetery... 

Map showing the locations of Merkem and Houthulst
One name that particularly caught my attention at that cemetery was that of Corp. Albert Hennebicq, because Edouard's older sister Maria, had married a man called Ferdinand Hennebicq, who was my great-great grandfather. The quite rare Hennebicq name will be a topic of a later blog post.
Belgian WWI Cemetery in Houthulst, Belgium
I can already add that I have not yet been able to find a family relationship between Edouard's brother-in-law, Ferdinand Hennebicq, and this Corp. Albert Hennebicq, although both Hennebicq men did have ancestors living in the same small region in the Walloon province of Hainaut, near the city of Tournai wich could be an indication that they were in fact related.

Corporal Albert Hennebicq, a 25 year old native of Saint-Sauveur in the Belgian province of Hainaut, died only one day later than Edouard Broeckx, on September 29, 1918 during the end offensive of Passchendaele, which was a little to the southeast of Houthulst. 

Grave of Corporal Albert Hennebicq

As I was trying to find more information on Edouard Broeckx, I did come across a picture of a Belgian WWI soldier who was named Edouard A. Broeckx and who lived in the village of Hoboken, just to the south of Antwerp.

Edouard A. Broeckx of Hoboken, Belgium

There are quite a lot of indications that this Edouard A. Broeckx from Hoboken was not the same person as my great-great grand uncle Edouard Broeckx, but still I decided to also include the picture of Edouard A. Broeckx here. Perhaps at some point in time I will figure out if the two gentlemen were actually related to each other.
I know my 3-times great-grandparents must have been devastated by the loss of their only son at such a young age. It must have been difficult for them to not be able to visit a grave. Maybe they re-visited the grave of Corp. Jean Broeckx instead, still hoping that it was in fact their son who had been burried there...
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  1. If you research the battle your uncle was in, and find that there was explosive shelling, it might explain why his gravesite is missing. Hoping some day someone finds it. With DNA family can be located these days.

  2. I will definitely conduct further searches about this battle and the aftermath thereof! Thank you for the suggestion!

  3. That's terribly sad for the family that the remains were never located again. It's heartbreaking to read of his father writing to inquire about whether there were mistakes made in the exhumation process. Clearly he was desperate to locate his son. An important story to tell and to continue researching. Good luck!

  4. Thank you! I'll try to find out more!