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Tyne Cot Ware Cemetery:an experience not to be missed

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Visiting Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery

“The early bird catches the worm” as they say, and today we definitely did.  Our “worm” was getting to the Tyne Cot Cemetery near Ypres in north-west Belgium before anyone else arrived.  In the grey, misty morning, clouds hanging low overhead, it was just us and the lone gardener, preparing for the day.

Tyne Cot Cemetery Ieper
First ones here
Entrance to the Tyne cot Cemetery
Entrance to the Tyne cot Cemetery

Tyne Cot Cemetery is the most visited World War I site in all of Flanders Fields, so to have it to ourselves was quite special.  And, whilst I completely understand that this site should attract plenty of visitors to keep the history alive, I can’t help but feel ok with my selfishness of just wanting to be here alone.

It’s a sombre site.  The largest Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in the world, it has almost 12,000 graves.  Sadly, 8,374 of these sites are for Unknown Soldiers.  Soldiers who were not able to be identified and therefore not given a proper burial.  Soldiers whose parents and family were not able to say goodbye properly.

“Many had lain unburied for years and all clues to their identity had been lost.  These unidentified dead – more than 40,000 – account for one third of the marked burials in the Salient’s cemeteries today.  The headstones inscribed  A SOLDIER OF THE GREAT WAR, KNOWN UNTO GOD can be found in profusion”.  [www.cwgc.org]

Unknown soldier Tyne Cot Cemetery
Unknown soldier
Grave of an unknown Australian soldier at Tyne cot Cemetery
Grave of an unknown Australian soldier
An identified Australian soldier at Tyne Cot Cemetery
Grace of an identified Australian soldier

The cemetery contains the following known soldiers’ graves.

  • British 8,961
  • Canadian 997
  • Australian 1,368
  • New Zealand 520
  • South African 90
  • Newfoundland 14
  • British West Indian 2
  • German 4

In what seems like an unusual act, there are four German graves located here.  These belonged to soldiers who were injured and treated here when the war ended.  The pillbox that now has the Cross of Sacrifice adorning it, was once used as a dressing station for injured soldiers.

Cross of Sacrifice

Situated right in the middle of the cemetery grounds (the cross is visible in the centre of the main entrance), is the Cross of Sacrifice.  This cross was built on the top of a German pillbox.   Pill boxes are concrete fortifications, often dug into the ground, and used as permanent structures for the firing of weapons.  They were used extensively by the Germans during the World Wars.

There is an inscription on the plaque at the front of the pill box that reads ” This was the Tyne Cot Blockhouse captured by the 3rd Australian Division 4th October 1917″

The Cross of Sacrifice Tyne Cot Cemetery
The Cross of Sacrifice
Cross of Sacrifice Tyne Cot
Wreaths are constantly placed at the Cross of Sacrifice

Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing

Towards the back of the cemetery, behind the Cross of Sacrifice, is the main memorial wall, that carries the names of the missing.  There is a domed arch at the end of each side of the wall.  These 34,857 names are representative of:

  • 33,690 British
  • 1 Canadian
  • 1,166 New Zealand

Other Commonwealth soldiers not named here (and are prior to August 15 1917) are represented at the Menin Gate.

The main memorial wall at Tyne Cot
The main memorial wall


New Zealand soldiers Tyne cot
New Zealand unknown soldiers

Visitor Centre

The visitor centre here offers a suite of information about the cemetery and what they describe as a panoramic view over the battlefields.  Having visited quite a few battlefields now, I know (logically) what they are referring to.

With the battles of these fields now left far behind, the areas are now often lush, rolling green plains.  Here, there are corn fields in abundance and small houses.  I don’t know about you, but it just seems wrong to call them panoramic, especially since there could still be the bodies of soldiers buried out there somewhere.  For now, I’ll just continue to think of them as battlefields and give them my respect.

The Tyne Cot Cemetery was gifted to the UK by King Albert I in perpetuity
The Tyne Cot Cemetery was gifted to the UK by King Albert I in perpetuity
Tree at Tyne Cot Cemetery
A peaceful place to stop outside the main walls of the cemetery

 

LEST WE FORGET

Tyne Cot Cemetery details

  • Open daily from 1 February until 15 December 9am – 6pm.  Last entrance 4.30pm.
  • Free entrance to the cemetery and the visitor centre.
  • Guided tours may be reserved through the visitor centre.
  • Plenty of free car parking on site.
  • Tip – get there early!

 

 

Tyne Cot Cemetery

20 thoughts on “Tyne Cot Ware Cemetery:an experience not to be missed”

  1. Really enjoyed your trip report and visit to this place. It is beautiful and touching. The photos really gave me a good idea of what the grounds are actually like. Thank you for sharing your experience. I will have to visit.

  2. I’ve never been, but I keep finding more reasons to get back to Belgium. I can’t believe how many unknown soldiers there were, so saddening. Looks like they did a beautiful job with the cemetery.

  3. Hi Kaylene, there are definitely many reasons to head to Belgium. The Tyne Cot Cemetery is perfectly maintained and the way they have honoured the unknown is really very special.

  4. Graveyards are always so interesting to visit, especially for soldiers and military members. That site looks beautiful, they are doing a great job of maintaining it.

  5. You have portrayed this as quite beautiful. An empty cemetery is my favorite to visit. When I visited Arlington National Cemetery in Washington DC I was struck by how many soldiers have served my country (and knowing that this was only a fraction of them).

  6. Hi Jamie, you are right, it’s not until you visit these locations that you really get the true sense and understanding of how much people have given up and lost to fight for their country.

  7. I really hate cemeteries but I do like going to these – we visited one very similar in Oahu to remember the fallen from World War II. It’s just so humbling standing among the fallen…

  8. I visited TyneCot in May this year to pay my respects to my Cousin Pvt Edwin Earlam of the Royal Berkshire Regiment. He died on 22 August 1917 and i hope to go there again next year on the 100th anniversary of his death.
    His Brother John Henry Earlam of The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment was also killed on 18 April 1918 near Bethune, France but sadly has no known grave.

  9. Hi Kevan, thank you so much for sharing all of that information. This is why I visit these places, to hear the stories and learn about the people. It was such an incredible time for us to sit with the Scottish man whose own grandfather had died 100 years ago in the fields here. He was so emotional which made me so too. I really hope you get there next year. It would be such an incredible experience for you and one that you would never, ever forget.

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