Friday, July 24, 2009

Tyne Cot - a Day of Remembrance

A visit to Tyne Cot Cemetery is an emotionally draining yet awe-inspiring experience.

Between Broodseinde and Passandale (Passchendaele), Belgium, is Tyne Cot, the largest British and Commonwealth war cemetery in the world. Here are 11,953 headstones of men killed, or who died of wounds, in the defence of Ieper (Ypres) between 1914 and 1918.

They died especially during the months of that epic struggle known as the ‘Flanders Offensive’ of 1917 when the British and French tried to roll back the German positions along these low–lying ridges and break through beyond them towards the Channel coast.

At the back of the cemetery is the long wall of the Tyne Cot Memorial. It carries the names of 34,863 British Commonwealth soldiers who have ‘no known grave’, men who died between 15 August 1917 and the end of the war. They represent the ‘overspill’ from the Menin Gate when it was realised in the 1920s that that memorial, built to commemorate all the British Commonwealth soldiers missing of the Ieper area, did not have enough space on its panels for the task.

The vast majority of those on the wall at Tyne Cot would have died in the battles hereabouts of September to November 1917.

Tyne Cot is a consolidation cemetery: the remains of the thousands who now rest there were brought in from isolated graves and small cemeteries when the war ended. But it was also a battlefield burial ground. The headstones immediately behind the Great Cross, in less organised rows, are the original burial plots.

Beyond the Great Cross the headstones stretch away row on row on row. There are 1,369 Australian graves here, 791 of them unidentified, making Tyne Cot the war cemetery with the most Australian burials in the world. Many Canadians and New Zealanders are also buried here.

The Cemetery is beautifully maintained with funding from the countries whose young men lie here. The lawns are immaculate and more than 140 varieties of plants soften the starkness of the white headstones.

We visited the museum which stands just outside the walls of the cemetery. It is a simple museum with photos and relics from that theatre of war, but for me the most heartwrenching part was seeing the photos of the soldiers who died here appear on a wall for a few seconds, and then gently fade away, as their names were announced quietly and respectfully.

Without going into the pros and cons of any armed conflict, I couldn't help but think of, and mourn for, the countless thousands of young lives lost, on all sides, in the prime of their lives........and for what? I also thought of the 'unknown' soldiers, whose remains lie in the cemetery, beneath a headstone with no name; the names of more than 34,000 soldiers who have no known grave or whose remains have never been found; and even for the families who have never known where their loved ones have lain for nearly 100 years.

The serenity and beauty of the Cemetery itself helped ease the pain and sorrow I was feeling, and dry the tears I was shedding. I hope that in some small measure, and in some way, the spirit of these brave men is at peace in these beautiful surroundings.

A visit to Tyne Cot will change your life.......or at least, it should!

The area of conflict.

Click on photo to enlarge.

It's hard to believe that such carnage was wrought over what are now such peaceful rural scenes.

One of the quotes from the museum that was my emotional undoing.

Entry to the cemetery.

The stone wall surrounding the cemetery makes up the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing, with the names of some 34,000 soldiers who either lie in unnamed graves or whose remains have never been found.

The Menin Gate, near the entrance to the town centre of Ieper (Ypres) was built as a memorial the British Commonwealth soldiers.

Behind the Menin Gate.
Lest We Forget.

At 8.00 o'clock, every night of the year, traffic is halted on either side of the Menin Gate while The Last Post is played within the walls of the Gate. Tourists and locals gather together for this short, but moving, ceremony.

Visitors can lay wreaths in remembrance of their loved ones.


Gattina said...

I have never been there. I have to admit I am against everything which touches from near to far military things. I grew up in a completely destroyed country in a city where only 20 % of buildings were still standing. I was born in Germany in the middle of the war. That was enough military for me for my whole life.:=)

Puss-in-Boots said...

What a moving tribute to all those young men who gave their lives for our freedom, Alice. Thank you for the reminder...we can take too much for granted these days.

Isabelle said...

How very sad.

diane said...

It must have been a very emotional visit. What a shocking waste of life. Young lives. I understand gattina's comment. I too was born in the middle of the war but in England. My parents never wanted to be reminded of the war years it was too distressing for them.

Kerri said...

We owe so much to those brave souls who were willing to fight, and even give their lives, for a free world.
Freedom has always been costly, and without our militaries we wouldn't have the liberties we do today.
God bless the families and souls of those who died, and those who served, and lived to tell the story.
It's a wonderful tribute to all those brave souls who suffered much, and died for the cause of freedom.
I'm impressed by the care taken to keep this place looking so beautifully kept and well groomed.
Yes, it must have been an emotional visit, and aren't those surrounding fields lovely and peaceful...and so very flat. They must be a joy to plow!
Thanks so much for sharing this amazing place with us, dear Alice.

Anonymous said...

Sad, wasteful, a fitting memorial are just some of my thoughts as i read this post. Beautifully written Alice
Thank you