More background info: The name Tyne Cot is a bit mysterious. There is a legend that it got that name from the Northumberland Fusiliers who thought that a certain farm building or German bunker reminded them of typical cottages back home around Newcastle upon Tyne. However, the Northumberland Fusiliers were not stationed in this area, so it is in fact more likely that it simply came out of a tradition among British Army map-makers to use river names on their trench maps (there were also a Seine, a Thames, a Rhine and so on). Where the “Cot”, sometimes also spelled “Cott”, comes from is not quite clear either. It could be an abbreviation of “cottage” or it could come from the Dutch word for “dovecote”.
Anyway, the place now known as Tyne Cot was a fortified German position on its “Flandern I” Line. Several bunkers were built on this somewhat elevated ground affording a good view of the slope below and towards British trenches and Ypres
in the distance. That’s why it was such an important position. Some of these bunkers can still be seen today.
In the Battle of Passchendaele (see under Ypres
and Passchendaele 1917 Museum
), the Tyne Cot position was captured by Allied troops and the Australians set up an aid post in one of the German bunkers. Around it a cemetery soon grew for those who could not be saved or who had fallen nearby.
After the war special Exhumation Companies brought in many thousands of bodies found in the battlefields. Only a small proportion of these could still be identified. Tyne Cot cemetery was enlarged and those bodies were interred here, in addition to others that were moved here from smaller original cemeteries that had been established still during the war, in an effort to concentrate the burial grounds somewhat.
In total, almost 12,000 Commonwealth soldiers are buried at Tyne Cot, making it the largest Commonwealth War Cemetery in the world. The headstones are of a uniform design made from Portland stone. Many are marked simply “a soldier of the Great War” plus a cross and below it the inscription “known unto God”. Sometimes the name of the soldier’s regiment is also given, if known. There are also a few German graves, with inscriptions in German (!); these were for POWs who had died while in Allied custody.
The Cross of Sacrifice, which all Commonwealth War Cemeteries of a certain size (over 40 graves) feature, was built atop a structure erected around a German bunker, possibly the very one originally referred to as Tyne Cot.
Tyne Cot is also a Memorial to the Missing
. Missing means the soldiers in question either have nameless graves or they are still missing altogether, i.e. have no formal graves and still lie somewhere underground in the former battlefields (human remains are to this day regularly washed up by heavy rain or dug up by farmers or construction workers in these parts). When the original monument for this function, the Menin Gate
, was under construction it became clear that not all the names of the missing would fit on it, so a random cut-off date, August 1917, was decided on, and the names of those who had died after that date were inscribed on a curved wall towards the rear of Tyne Cot – nearly 35,000! So almost three times as many as there are graves here. These missing soldiers represented here are those from the UK
and New Zealand
(in a separate section), while other Commonwealth missing soldiers who died after August 1917 are given their own Missing Memorials elsewhere.
Tyne Cot became one of the principal Great War pilgrimage destinations, a place that virtually every visitor to the region would go to. Coaches parking in front of the cemetery by the narrow country road that goes past it soon enough became an issue. One coach once got stuck in a ditch. And pedestrians’ safety was being compromised. So it was decided to build a dedicated car and coach parking area behind the cemetery alongside a new visitor centre providing some background information.
This new visitor centre
near the car park was completed in 2006 and officially inaugurated in July 2007 by none less than Queen Elizabeth II of the UK
and Queen Paola of Belgium
What there is to see: As you leave the car park you first head towards the visitor centre. Inside is a small exhibition providing background information about the battles fought in this area as well as about certain individuals who are buried here. Under the central block of panels is a large glass cabinet containing recreated battlefield debris. A few other cabinets display various items such as gas masks, hip flasks, personal possessions, letters, medals and uniforms. Text panels are in Flemish/Dutch, English, French and German.
There are also a couple of computer terminals with an electronic register by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission where you can search the names of all 1.7 million Commonwealth war dead of WW1
As you leave the visitor centre for the actual cemetery you can hear names of the missing read out over loudspeakers, creating a very sombre atmosphere.
A path leads around the northern side of the cemetery perimeter towards the road and the main entrance to the cemetery. Incorporated into the gate is the cemetery register and guest book behind a small metal door with a cross on it.
Then you step into the sea of white gravestones. The majority are nameless. Unless you are searching for specific graves (the visitor centre gives some clues), you’ll most likely just randomly wander amongst the graves and head towards the Cross of Sacrifice. In its base is a small gap through which you can see the German bunker around which the base of the cross was built. Two more German bunkers can be found in the north and south of the main part of the cemetery surrounded by groups of four trees each.
Behind the Cross of Sacrifice is the Stone of Remembrance with the inscription “Their Name Liveth For Evermore”. Such a stone is a feature of all Commonwealth War Cemeteries of more than a thousand graves.
Behind this is the Tyne Cot b, with some 35,000 names inscribed on a 230m-long curved wall stretching north to south and forming the rear wall of the cemetery. There’s an exit in this wall into the car park, so you don’t have to walk back along the outside path that took you to the cemetery.
ca. 2 miles (3 km) north-east of Zonnebeke (with the Passchendaele 1917 Museum) and a good 6 miles (10 km) east of Ypres
Google Maps locators:
Access and costs: fairly easy only by car; free
Details: Getting to Tyne Cot by public transport isn’t really a good option. There is a bus that runs between Ypres and Roeselare that has a stop “Tyne Cot” that is a ca. 10-minute walk from the actual site, but connections are infrequent.
So unless you’re on an organized tour you have to make your own way to this site, best by car/motorcycle, though you could also cycle here from Ypres
if you don’t mind the distances. From the Passchendaele 1917 Museum
it’s an easy ride – as there is even a dedicated walking/cycle path connecting the two sites!
If coming by car from Zonnebeke take the N332 east out of town, then turn left into the N303 and take the second road turning off left, called Tynecotstraat. This takes you to a fork in the road, where you have to turn right to get to the car park, which you are obliged to use. You are not allowed to park in front of the cemetery entrance!
The cemetery is freely accessible at all times; wheelchair users are also allowed to use the rear exit in the back wall for entrance to the cemetery, so they don’t have to take the longer route that ordinary visitors have to follow.
The visitor centre has the following opening times: daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. between 1 February and 30 November, so it remains closed during December and January.
Time required: depends mostly on how long you want to stand amongst the graves and contemplate. The visitor centre takes only about 20 minutes, if that. A walk around the cemetery perhaps another 20-30 minutes.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: This is a fairly pleasant part of the region, but doesn’t really offer many tourist attractions beyond those associated with WW1 – with one exception: a five-minute drive to the north-west from the cemetery is a cheese factory with a museum, a cafeteria as well as a shop selling cheese products.
- Tyne Cot 1 - cemetery main entrance
- Tyne Cot 2 - going in
- Tyne Cot 3 - rows and rows of graves
- Tyne Cot 4 - almost unknown soldier
- Tyne Cot 5 - surprsingly two unknown Germans are here too
- Tyne Cot 6 - ... or not
- Tyne Cot 7 - wall of known names
- Tyne Cot 8a - visitor centre
- Tyne Cot 8b - with battlefield debris
- Tyne Cot 9a - exhibits
- Tyne Cot 9b - computer stations