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.
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.