Near the town of Ieper in Belgium is Tyne Cot Cemetery, the largest Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery in the world. It is now the resting place of more than 11,900 servicemen of the British Empire from the First World War. This area on the Western Front was the scene of the Third Battle of Ypres. Also known as the Battle of Passchendaele, it was one of the major battles of the First World War. Many of those who fell on the Passchendaele battlefields are buried here. Tyne Cot, or Tyne Cottage, was a barn that stood near the level crossing on the road from Passchendaele to Broodseinde. Around it were a number of blockhouses. It was named by the Northumberland Fusiliers. The barn, which had become the centre of five or six German blockhouses, was captured by the 3rd Australian Division on 4 October 1917, in the advance on Passchendaele.
One of these pillboxes was unusually large and was used as an advanced dressing station after its capture. From 6 October to the end of March 1918, 343 graves were made, on two sides of it, by the 50th (Northumbrian) and 33rd Divisions, and by two Canadian units. The cemetery was in German hands again from 13 April to 28 September, when it was finally recaptured, during Passchendaele, by the Belgian Army.
Tyne Cot Cemetery is in an area known as the Ypres Salient. Broadly speaking, the Salient stretched from Langemarck in the north to the northern edge in Ploegsteert Wood in the south, but it varied in area and shape throughout the war.
The Salient was formed during the First Battle of Ypres in October and November 1914, when a small British Expeditionary Force succeeded in securing the town before the onset of winter, pushing the German forces back to the Passchendaele Ridge. The Second Battle of Ypres began in April 1915 when the Germans released poison gas into the Allied lines north of Ypres. This was the first time gas had been used by either side and the violence of the attack forced an Allied withdrawal and a shortening of the line of defence.
There was little more significant activity on this front until 1917 when, in the Third Battle of Ypres, an offensive was mounted by Commonwealth forces to divert German attention from a weakened French front further south. The initial attempt in June to dislodge the Germans from the Messines Ridge was a complete success, but the main assault north-eastward, which began at the end of July, quickly became a dogged struggle against determined opposition and the rapidly deteriorating weather. The campaign finally came to a close in November with the capture of Passchendaele.
The German offensive of March 1918 met with some initial success, but was eventually checked and repulsed in a combined effort by the Allies in September.
Tyne Cot Cemetery was greatly enlarged after the Armistice when remains were brought in from the battlefields of Passchendaele and Langemarck, and from a few small burial grounds, including the Iberian South and Trench Cemeteries at Langemarck, Kink Corner, Levi Cottage and British No. 2 Cemeteries at Zonnebeke, the German Cemetery at Oostnieuwkerke, Praet-Bosch German Cemetery at Vladsloo, Staden German Cemetery at Stadenberg and Waterloo Farm Cemetery at Gravenstafel.
There are now more than 11,900 Commonwealth servicemen of the First World War buried or commemorated in Tyne Cot Cemetery. More than 8,370 of the burials are unidentified, but there are special memorials to more than 80 casualties known or believed to be buried among them. Other special memorials commemorate 20 casualties whose graves were destroyed by shell fire. There are also four German burials, three of which are unidentified.
The Tyne Cot Memorial forms the north-eastern boundary of Tyne Cot Cemetery and commemorates nearly 35,000 servicemen from the United Kingdom and New Zealand, who died in the Ypres Salient after 16 August 1917 and whose graves are not known. The memorial stands close to the farthest point in Belgium reached by Commonwealth forces in the First World War until the final advance to victory.
The cemetery was designed by Sir Herbert Baker 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’.
The entrance is a round-headed arch. On either side of the central arch are the dates of the First World War, 1914 on the left and 1918 on the right.
The two surviving blockhouses are located towards the western end of the cemetery. They are made of concrete and are surrounded by four tall poplar trees.
The rear of the cemetery is occupied by the curved Tyne Cot Memorial, also designed by Sir Herbert and Truelove. The memorial commemorates a further 35,000 soldiers of the British and New Zealand forces who have no known grave.
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 was placed on the original large blockhouse.