Lt
Josef Verfürth

Information about birth

Date of birth:
29/05/1892
Place of birth:
Goch, Rhine Province, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire

General information

last known residence:
Roggenstrasse 34, Goch, Rhine Province, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire
Profession:
Theology student
Religion:
Roman Catholic

Army information

Country:
German Empire
Force:
Imperial German Army
Rank:
Lieutenant
Enlistment date:
21/01/1915
Units:
 —  Ober-Elsässiches Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 172  (Last known unit)

Information about death

Date of death:
30/10/1917
Place of death:
Graf - Turmhof, Passchendaele, Belgium
Cause of death:
Killed in action (K.I.A.)
Age:
25

Cemetery

Deutscher Soldatenfriedhof Menen
Plot: C
Row: /
Grave: 1367

Distinctions and medals 1

Eiserne Kreuz I. Klasse
Medal — 24/12/1916

Points of interest 3

#1 Place of birth
#2 Last known residence
#3 ‘Place of death’

Additional information

Josef Verfürth was born on 29 May 1892 at Roggenstraße 34 in Goch. In Paul and Hubertine Verfürth’s Catholic family he was the oldest of eleven children. After attending high school in Goch and Kleef, he went to the episcopal seminary Borromaeum in Münster in 1913 to study theology. When he was called up on 21 January 1915, he was apparently on the point of being ordained as a deacon.

Josef was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 10th Company, of the 172nd Infantry Regiment. The war took him to various parts of the Western Front. His first experience of trench warfare was in late April 1915 at Geluveld, during the Second Battle of Ypres. After many demanding months of service in Flanders, including time spent in the trenches to the south of Hooge, in early February 1916 Josef’s unit was transferred to an area close to Verdun. By that time he had been promoted to become a non-commissioned officer. It seems very likely he was deployed on the Somme in October-November, then on 7 December 1916 Josef was given permission for home leave. Just thirteen days later he had to say farewell to his family again.

On 24 December 1916, Josef Verfürth was awarded the Iron Cross First Class in the French village of Brieulles-sur-Bar. In the course of his military career he eventually rose to the rank of lieutenant. After months of service in France, including stints in the Champagne region, Arras and Loos, he was deployed to Flanders again. On 14 October 1917 the 172nd Infantry Regiment was billeted in cold, draughty houses and barracks at Tuimelaarhoek, to the east of Moorslede. The men could hear the thunder of shells in the distance and see flashes of light from the front flickering through the rain.

On 20 October the 3rd Battalion was moved up to the second line between the Keiberg Spur and Waterdamhoek, southeast of Passchendaele, to provide support. In between the hedges and the few houses still standing, which offered only limited cover, Josef took the time to write a letter to his father. ‘[The battle] is raging here wild and terrifying. Horrendous artillery fire thunders around us. Then follows the fighting in boggy land and morass; our places of refuge are abominable. You go through the most terrible hours that put a severe strain on your nerves and your body.’ Five days later the men were relieved, if only for a few hours. Shortly after their replacement, the alarm was raised in response to escalating artillery fire and Josef’s unit was moved forward again. The next day the Canadians began their slow conquest of Passchendaele.

Josef was finally relieved once again on 29 October. His battalion positioned itself close to Chateau Koekuit, some three kilometres north-east of Moorslede. Again he took the time to write home. ‘When I’m asleep, not even the loudest roar of the guns can wake me, unless I feel cold. But I have a jacket and a good overcoat, so I’m protected as far as possible against the cold. So please don’t worry about me. I wish you all happy days and send lots of greetings, especially to mama. Your Josef.’

At Chateau Koekuit Josef was able to catch his breath, if only very briefly. The dire situation at Passchendaele forced the German army leadership to send the same troops into battle time and again. In the early morning of 30 October the battalions of the 172nd Infantry Regiment were sent to the northern edge of Passchendaele. When messages filtered through shortly after their arrival that the enemy had penetrated as far as the church in Passchendaele village, the regiment was ordered to mount a counterattack in the direction of the Mosselmarkt.

At 11.15 am two white flares shot up into the air, the signal for the counterattack. Josef’s battalion advanced along the southern edge of what is now ’s Graventafelstraat. In appalling conditions they set up a defensive line that afternoon in the muddy, cratered landscape between the ruins of Turmhof and ’s Graventafelstraat. Machine-gun fire swept continually over the heads of the defenders, while the heavy artillery bombardment of the area was undiminished. It was in those circumstances that Josef Verfürth was fatally wounded.

In early November 1917, Josef’s parents worried greatly about their son, since they hadn’t received any post from him for several weeks. His sister Else Verfürth recalls how the tragic news eventually reached them. ‘Perhaps around the first or second week of November 1917, I no longer know the precise date, I, a fifteen-year-old girl, was looking after my brothers Hans, Alex and Heini because father had to work and mother was shopping in town. In the afternoon the bell rang. I opened the door and there stood a soldier in a scruffy uniform who asked to speak to my parents. Since they weren’t home, he handed me a letter from my brother Josef and I had to inform my parents that their son had died on 30 October 1917 close to Ypres in Flanders. ... When my mother got home and, in tears, I told her what the soldier had said, terrible reproaches were hurled at me because they refused to believe the sad news.’

Josef’s parents were soon forced to face reality. In a letter to them dated 6 November 1917, Josef’s comrade-in-arms Heinrich Schultheis explains how their son died. ‘Side by side we walked through the shellfire and found shelter in a small shell hole. We were glad to have reached our objective. ... About half an hour later we were watching attentively and comparing experiences when Josef suddenly collapsed. A bullet had passed through his head and he was instantly unconscious. ... The loss of blood was very severe. We laid Josef down, protected against enemy fire. He remained unconscious. We shook his hand, we prayed for him, we wept for him, he had all the help that can be given a person. It was about two o’clock in the afternoon. At eighteen thirty hours we closed our dear friend’s eyes.’

Josef Verfürth was initially buried in the Ehrenfriedhof in Rumbeke-Bergmolen, in grave number 407. Between 14 and 22 November 1955 his body was moved to the Menen German War Cemetery, Block C – Grave 1367.

Files 5

Sources 2

Kepser J. W. M., Kriegstagebuch 1915-1917, Josef Verfürth : Flandern - Verdun – Flandern (Dreieich, s.n., 2017).
Sources used
Wegener H., Die Geschichte des 3. Ober-Elsässischen Infanterie-Regiments Nr. 172 (Zeulenroda, Verlag Bernhard Sporn, 1934).
Sources used