Tyne Cot is the largest Commonwealth War Cemetery on the Western Front, with 11,953 burials. It is also the location of one of the Memorials to the Missing, and is one of the principal sites to see on the battlefields of Belgian Flanders. The best guidebook covering this site and the areas around Ypres in general is Major & Mrs. Holts Battlefield Guide to the Ypres Salient.
Tyne Cot is well signposted, and is located just south-west of Passchendaele (see map below). There are many other Great War related sites to see in and around the village of Passchendaele.
A Visitors Centre to the rear of the cemetery was officially opened on July the 12th 2007, when the Queen was present at Tyne Cot as part of the run-up to the 90th Anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele.There is a large car park here, and there are also toilets (coin operated).
The Visitors Centre is a dark grey structure, with displays in an area to one side. There are a number of contemporary photographs on display, one of which shows a blockhouse with the words ‘Tyne Cott’ on the side.
The Memorial to the Missing
Entering from the path past the visitors centre brings you to the rear of the cemetery, where the Memorial to the Missing is located. The Tyne Cot Memorial forms the end wall of the Cemetery and commemorates those with no known grave from August 16th 1917 on. There are 34,991 names recorded here. The names are listed on panels, arranged by regiment and then by rank. (The Menin Gate in Ypres commemorates those who died before August 17th 1917).
The panels listing the missing curve around the rear of the cemetery. On one visit, I saw a framed statement placed at the foot of one of the panels, which read “Remembering Lance Corporal Henry John Martin, blown to pieces at Poelcapelle on the 27th of November 1917”. Just one of those with no known grave.
Tyne Cot Cemetery
Tyne Cot cemetery was started in October 1917, after the capture of the nearby village of Passchendaele, but fighting continued in the region and the Germans retook the ground and held it between 13 April to 28 September 1918. Some of the graves already here were destroyed in this fighting, and so some men are commemorated by special memorials as they were known to be buried here, but their graves were lost.
After the War the cemetery like many others was made permanent, with headstones replacing wooden crosses. In the photograph above, a crane can be seen in the top left corner, perhaps putting one of the memorial panels in place.
The name Tyne Cot may possibly have been used because soldiers of the Northumberland Fusiliers thought the barn on the skyline which was here during the war resembled cottages at home. There has been speculation that the name may derive from lettering on a cottage or barn, or else that several cottages in the area were named after rivers, including the Tyne.
Within the Cemetery today, there are still three visible German pillboxes. A fourth was covered, at the suggestion of King George V, by the Cross of Remembrance, although the blockhouse wall can still be seen at the base – see the right hand photo above.
Of nearly 12,000 servicemen buried here at Tyne Cot, nearly 70% of the burials are of unknown soldiers. This is testament to the intense fighting, the nature of the ground during the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele), and the famed mud of the salient.
Tyne Cot Cemetery, with its serried ranks of headstones standing testament to the horrific battles and suffering here, is a deeply moving experience. The sight of so many graves brings a realisation of what the First World War meant, and the scale it was fought on.
Some of the names recorded on the memorial may be of those buried here in unidentified graves, but the sheer size of this cemetery cannot fail to move you. When you add the number of names on the memorial to the number of burials here, the total is nearly 50,000 men.