The largest Commonwealth military cemetery in the world is called Tyne Cot, and is a 10minute drive (or 2hour walk) from the centre of Ypres in Belgium. In 1917 however it took months of battling in horrendous weather for the allies to reach here. The area (once a barn surrounded by block houses) was named by the British and was the furthest point reached by Commonwealth forces in Belgium until nearly the end of the war.
They were literally fighting over yards during one of the largest battles of the First World War, which helps why explain this area took decades to be cleaned, restored and recover from the war. It may look peaceful and beautiful these days, but there was absolutely nothing remaining here after the war, and the land was unrecognisable even to those who lived and worked here before the outbreak of war. If you would like to learn more about the impact on land visit Denzil’s post.
Returning to the story of Tyne Cot Cemetery, the burials began here in October 1917, when the largest blockhouse was used as an advanced dressing station following its capture from the Germans. More than 340 Commonwealth soldiers were buried around the blockhouse before the area was re-captured by the Germans in April 1918.
It was to remain under German control until the September when the allies combined their efforts to ‘repulse’ the Germans once more. Some of the block houses still exist to this day, with the largest one being used as the base for the Great Cross.
If you are wondering as to the origins of the name Tyne Cot, well it is unclear. The CWGC on their website state that the Ypres Times in 1923 indicated that the name was given by the Northumberland Fusiliers, several battalions of which first served in the area in May 1915. And I read on another site that the reason the soldiers gave this area this name was because they saw a resemblance between the many German concrete pill boxes on this site and typical Tyneside workers’ cottages. However some historians say that is doubtful because Tyne Cot was already marked on British Army trench maps before the Northumberland Fusiliers arrived. These historians suggest the name was given to the farm building by the British Army map makers and reflect that trenches and sites were named after rivers. Whatever the reason it is a name that stuck.
As with all the other WW1 cemeteries the grounds at Tyne Cot were assigned to the United Kingdom in perpetuity by King Albert I of Belgium in recognition of the sacrifices made by the British Empire in the defence and liberation of Belgium during the war. The cemetery was designed by Sir Herbert Baker, one of the Commission’s three principal architects, and John Reginald Truelove. Sir Herbert said he wished the cemetery to have;
‘the appearance of a huge, well-ordered English churchyard with its yews and cedars behind the great flint wall, reminiscent of the walls of the precincts of Winchester [College]’.
Of the 11,968 individuals buried at Tyne Cot less than 30% have a name on their headstone. That means there are more than 8,370 graves here unnamed, including three Germans who died in the temporary hospital located here after the battle. Not all of the men though who are buried here died here. The cemetery was enlarged after the Armistice when remains were brought in from the battlefields of Passchendaele and Langemarck, and also from a few small burial grounds.
There is also a memorial to the missing at Tyne Cot, it records the names of the 34,964 who died after 16 August 1917 and whose bodies have never been found or identified. It is one of four memorials to the missing in Belgian Flanders which cover the area known as the Ypres Salient, which stretched from Langemarck in the north to the northern edge in Ploegsteert Wood in the south.
King George V visited Tyne Cot Cemetery in 1922 during his visit to the cemeteries of the First World War. At his suggestion, a Cross of Sacrifice, also called the Great Cross, was placed on the original large blockhouse. The King said on his visit;
We can truly say that the whole circuit of the Earth is girdled with the graves of our dead. In the course of my pilgrimage, I have many times asked myself whether there can be more potent advocates of peace upon Earth through the years to come, than this massed multitude of silent witnesses to the desolation of war.