The site of the Battle of Passchendaele
Tyne Cot Cemetery is located near the village of Passchendaele, about 10 kilometers north-east of Ypres.
The area on the Western Front delineated by the towns of Zonnebeke and Ypres and the Passchendaele Ridge was the theatre of the Battle of Passchendaele.
This battle, also known as Third Battle of Ypres, lasted from June to October 1917.
The purpose of the 3-month offensive was to take control of the series of ridges located south and east of Ypres.
Passchendaele Ridge was the easternmost of the ridges.
It was also a mere 5km away from Roulers, a railway station of prime importance that supplied the German troops.
Tyne Cot Cemetery was open on the slope of the Passchendaele Ridge, an 8 km band where the German front line stood.
The site, then known in Flemish as Nieumolen, was defended by pillboxes and barbed wires.
The British soldiers of the Northumberland Fusiliers nicknamed it Tyne Cot because the German pillboxes reminded them of Tyneside cottages.
A Canadian Division captured the village of Passchendaele.
The Australians and New-Zealanders captured Passchendaele Ridge on October 4, 1917.
The Germans briefly took control of Tyne Cot Cemetery, though, from April 13 to September 28, 1917.
Tyne Cot Cemetery – Sacrifice Cross
Four German pillboxes stood on the site of the present cemetery.
The Commonwealth Forces used an unusually large as an advanced dressing station after seizing the ridge.
The soldiers who fought at Passchendaele or died from their injuries were buried near this large pillbox.
The site therefore became a field cemetery.
The loss of human lives during this 3-month offensive was astronomical:
8.900 British soldiers, 1,350 Australians, 1000 Canadians and over 500 New-Zealanders indeed died during the battle in order to capture the ridge!
The four pillboxes have been preserved in the grounds of Tyne Cot Cemetery.
Three have been left in their original war state; two are now surrounded by poplar trees.
The fourth and larger pillbox, the former dressing station, has been embedded in the Cross of Sacrifice.
This impressive monument stands in the centre of the cemetery and dominates the graves.
A small patch of the pillbox has intentionally been left visible at the bottom of the monument and been encased in a bronze wreath.
King George V suggested erecting the Cross of Sacrifice on top of the pillbox when touring the battlefields in 1922.
He felt immensely chocked and saddened by the endless alignments of white crosses.
This decision carries a lot of symbolism.
Tyne Cot Cemetery
Exhumation Companies special units worked from 1919 to 1921 in order to recover all the Fallen Soldiers, who had been hastily buried in the numerous field graves of the area.
11,956 men were therefore re-buried with all honours in Tyne Cot Cemetery.
Sadly 8,369 were unidentified.
You’ll come across their graves engraved with the following epitaph:
“ A Soldier of the Great War Known Unto God”
Tyne Cot Cemetery is the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world.
The rear of the cemetery is delineated by a huge wall known as the Memorial to the Missing.
King Albert I of Belgium gave the grounds to the United Kingdom in perpetuity in recognition of the sacrifices made by the British Empire in defending and liberating Belgium during WWI.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission built the cemetery designed by Sir Herbert Baker and inaugurated it in 1927.
The cemetery contains sculptures by Joseph Hermitage and Ferdinand Victor Blunstone.
The latter was also involved in sculpting part of the Newfoundland National Memorial.
The CWGC has been maintaining Tyne Cot Cemetery to this day.
The 343 graves located between the Sacrifice Cross and the Memorial Wall are the original field graves dug between October 6, 1917 and March 1918.
The men buried there belonged to the 50th Northumbrian and 33rd Divisions and two Canadian Units.
Their graves have been left untouched.
This explains their irregular layout, as they were dug in haste.
They include four German graves, among which three are unidentified.
The Visitors Book is located at the entrance.
Tyne Cot Cemetery Memorial Wall to the Missing
A impressive wall known as the Tyne Cot Cemetery Memorial to the Missing marks the north-eastern boundary of the cemetery.
It is engraved with the names of 33,783 soldiers of the Commonwealth Forces and 1,176 New Zealander soldiers, who fell in the area after 16 August 1917 and whose identity has never been established.
The New Zealand Commonwealth War Graves Commission chose to erect their War Memorials on the battlefields where their men fell.
The Tyne Cot New-Zealand Memorial, however, is integrated to the Memorial Wall.
The Tyne Cote Memorial Wall continues the list of the Missing’s names engraved in the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres.
Sadly, the Menin Gate proved to be too “small” to bear all their names…
An arbitrary cut-off date of August 15, 1917 was therefore chosen.
The names of those who went missing passed this date were engraved on Tyne Cot Memorial Wall.
A superb rotunda marks each end of the Memorial Wall.
The visitors book is located in the rotunda located near the cemetery’s Interpretative Center.
Tyne Cot Cemetery Interpretative Centre
I suggest that you visit the Interpretative Centre before the cemetery.
Queen Elisabeth inaugurated the centre in July 2006 on the occasion of the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele.
The EC, the Flemish Government, the Province of West Flanders, the commune of Zonnebeke and a private partner provided the €1,5 million necessary for its construction.
The building has panoramic views over the surrounding hill, the former Battlefield of Passchendaele.
The centre exhibits photos, information panels, memorabilia, military maps covering the movements of troops and various documents related to the the offensive.
A recorded audio constantly plays in the background.
It enumerates the names of all the soldiers buried in the cemetery, while their photo (when available) comes up on a wide screen.
It is a simple, yet very effective and moving way, of giving back some of their identity to all the Missing, who lie unidentified in the cemetery.
You will also learn about the Passchendaele Archives Project which collects personal files, photos, service and family records in order to pay tribute to all the Missing who died during the offensive.
All the information obtained is entered on an Internet database.
The project is constantly welcoming new documents.
You can contribute if one of your family members fought and died at Passchendaele or if you happen to have documents related to it.
Both the Interactive Centre and the car park were designed by the archaeologist Peter Barton, in memory of Pte Bert Fearns from the Lancashire Fusiliers who fought on the site on October 1, 1917.
Another project, the Belgian WFA (Western Front Association) has been underway for years.
Its purpose is to perform (at least) partial identification of the soldiers buried in Tyne Cot Cemetery by establishing a link between their original place of burial on the battlefield.
Tyne Cot Cemetery has 18,000 visitors who each year come from all around the world.
Visiting Tyne Cot Cemetery and the Interpretative Centre is a very emotional visit.
James Trott – Yorkshire Regiment 9th Battalion
One of the men who died at Passchendaele was James Trott of the Yorkshire Regiment 9th Battalion.
His great niece Carol Thomas contacted us and this is what she wrote:
“I am just typing up some memories from my Grandmother that she recorded in the late 80’s.
Apparently her brother James died on the 19th September and had just been home on leave and went back on the last day of August – she says they all had their picture taken together in the station but sadly we don’t have a copy of that.
This is what my grandmother says about that time:
A lot of men had come home on leave, they used to have a farewell party and I was saying to Mum and Dad “Oh we should have a farewell party” and Mother said “Oh no, when he comes back for good, we’ll have a real good welcome home party”.
But he never came back, he was killed on the 19th September.
He was stretcher bearing and he was bringing in the wounded, and the officer wrote to my mother.
To think that he’d never had chance to a sort of live….he was such a nice lad, I’ve got his picture.”
Belgium – Flanders
Coordinates: Lat 50.887420 – Long 3.000690