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Cemeteries around the world – Tyne Cot

Tyne Cot, or the Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery and Memorial to the Missing to give the cemetery its full name is a Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) burial ground for the dead of the First World War in the Ypres Salient on the Western Front. It is the largest cemetery for Commonwealth forces in the world, for any war, and it is located outside of Passchendale, near Zonnebeke in Belgium.

The name Tyne Cot is said to come from the Northumberland Fusiliers, seeing a resemblance between the many German concrete pill boxes on this site and typical Tyneside workers’ cottages (Tyne cots). Tyne Cot CWGC Cemetery lies on a broad rise in the landscape which overlooks the surrounding countryside. As such, the location was strategically important to both sides fighting in the area. The concrete shelters which still stand in various parts of the cemetery were part of a fortified position of the German Flandern I Stellung, which played an important tactical role during the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917.

During the war, the site was captured by the 3rd Australian Division and the New Zealand Division and two days later became a cemetery for British and Canadian war dead. The cemetery was recaptured by German forces on 13 April 1918 and was finally liberated by Belgian forces on 28 September. After the Armistice in November 1918, the cemetery was greatly enlarged from its original 343 graves by concentrating graves from the battlefields, smaller cemeteries nearby and from Langemark.

The cemetery grounds were assigned to the United Kingdom in perpetuity by King Albert I of Belgium in recognition of the sacrifices made by the British Empire in the defence and liberation of Belgium during the war.

The cemetery was designed by Sir Herbert Baker, with sculptures by Joseph Armitage and Ferdinand Victor Blundstone. The Cross of Sacrifice that marks many CWGC cemeteries was built on top of a German pill box in the centre of the cemetery, purportedly at the suggestion of King George V, who visited the cemetery in 1922 as it neared completion.

When visiting the cemetery King George, said: “We can truly say that the whole circuit of the Earth is girdled with the graves of our dead. In the course of my pilgrimage, I have many times asked myself whether there can be more potent advocates of peace upon Earth through the years to come, than this massed multitude of silent witnesses to the desolation of war.”

The cemetery has several notable graves and memorials, including the grave of Private James Peter Robertson, a Canadian awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery in rushing a machine gun emplacement and rescuing two men from under heavy fire. He was killed saving the second of these men on 6 November 1917.

There are two Australian recipients of the Victoria Cross buried in the cemetery who are Captain Clarence Smith Jeffries, and Sergeant Lewis McGee. Jeffries led an assault party and rushed one of the strong points at the First Battle of Passchendaele on 12 October 1917, capturing four machine guns and 35 prisoners, before running his company forward again. He was planning another attack when he was killed by an enemy gunner. On the same day, McGee, who had earned his decoration eight days earlier at Broodseinde, was killed charging an enemy pillbox in the same battle.

Also at Tyne Cot, behind the Cross of Sacrifice which was constructed on top of an old German pillbox in the middle of the cemetery, there are four German graves, buried alongside Commonwealth graves. These graves are of men that were treated here after the battle, when the pillbox underneath the main cross was used as a dressing station for wounded men.

The stone wall surrounding the cemetery makes-up the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing, one of several Commonwealth War Graves Commission Memorials to the Missing along the Western Front. The UK missing lost in the Ypres Salient are commemorated at the Menin Gate memorial to the missing in Ypres and the Tyne Cot Memorial. Upon completion of the Menin Gate, builders discovered it was not large enough to contain all the names as originally planned.

The builders selected an arbitrary cut-off date of 15 August 1917 and the names of the UK missing after this date were inscribed on the Tyne Cot memorial instead. The New Zealand contingent of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission declined to have its missing soldiers names listed on the main memorials, choosing instead to have names listed on its own memorials near the appropriate battles, Tyne Cot was chosen as one of these locations.

Unlike the other New Zealand memorials to its missing, the Tyne Cot New Zealand memorial to the missing is integrated within the larger Tyne Cot memorial, forming a central apse in the main memorial wall. The inscription reads: “Here are recorded the names of officers and men of New Zealand who fell in the Battle of Broodseinde and the First Battle of Passchendaele October 1917 and whose graves are known only unto God.”

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