The Ypres Salient
Ypres (now Ieper) was at the heart of the Allied presence in Belgium for most of the First World War, giving its name to the 'Ypres Salient'. This was an area where Allied lines projected into enemy-held territory, formed during the First Battle of Ypres in late 1914. An unsuccessful German offensive to take the town and push toward the Channel in the spring of 1915 became known as the Second Battle of Ypres. For the next two years, trench raids, sniping and artillery fire continued every day, as Commonwealth servicemen fought to hold their ground and German troops strove to drive them from it. At the end of July 1917, Allied forces launched a major offensive which became known as 'Third Ypres', sometimes called 'Passchendaele' after the village where the advance ended. The experience of living and fighting in the Salient was one of the defining features of the Western Front for Commonwealth soldiers.
The sites selected below represent just some of the hundreds of CWGC cemeteries and memorials in the region:
The Menin Gate
One of the world's most iconic war memorials, this bears the names of more than 54,000 Commonwealth servicemen who fell in the Salient and whose final resting places are unknown: their bodies were never recovered; their graves were unrecorded, lost or destroyed by battle; or their remains could not be identified and were buried beneath a headstone inscribed 'Known Unto God.'
Cot Cemetery and Memorial
The final resting place of nearly 12,000 Commonwealth servicemen, more than 8,300 unidentified, most of whom died in 1917. The 'Tyne Cot' blockhouse, a robust concrete fortification, was captured by the 3rd Australian Division in October 1917 and now stands at the heart of the cemetery. The Tyne Cot Memorial bears the names of some 35,000 men who died in the Salient and have no known grave.
Town Cemetery and Extension
In the early stages of the war there were no established military cemeteries around Ypres and most graves were made in civilian cemeteries. Among those laid to rest in Ypres Town cemetery was Prince Maurice of Battenburg, the grandson of Queen Victoria, who died in October 1914 while serving with the King's Royal Rifle Corps.
On high ground to the south-east of Ypres, this village marked a crucial strategic position. Along with nearby Gheluvelt, it was the scene of fierce fighting in October and November 1914. Nearly 1,600 Commonwealth servicemen were buried here after the war, including many members of the elite Household Cavalry which suffered heavy losses when the village was captured.
Brandhoek Military Cemeteries
An advanced dressing station was established here in May 1915, and an adjoining field made a cemetery. Field ambulances, dressing stations and large casualty clearing stations operated here throughout the war. Before Third Ypres, land was set aside for two new cemeteries, and over 500 Commonwealth servicemen were buried here in July and August 1917.
Essex Farm Cemetery
The Yser Canal to the north of Ypres was the front-line in this part of the Salient between April 1915 and August 1917. An advanced dressing station was based here to provide medical care, eventually using concrete buildings which remain to this day. It was here, while serving with the Canadian Army Medical Corps, that John McCrae composed the famous poem 'In Flanders Fields.'
Casualty Clearing Stations (CCS) were usually established just beyond the range of enemy artillery and on the main lines of communications between the front and bases in the rear. This cemetery was begun by the French, but by June 1915 was used by Commonwealth CCSs at nearby Remy railway siding. It is the final resting place of nearly 10,000 Commonwealth and 1,000 French and German service personnel.
This site was first used to bury those who died in nearby dressing stations in June 1916. Like many cemeteries created during the fighting near the Salient front-lines, it was largely destroyed by fighting and artillery bombardment as the war continued. The headstones of those casualties known to be buried in a cemetery but whose graves have been destroyed are marked with a special inscription.
Point Military Cemetery
On the edge of Ploegsteert Wood to the south of Ypres, this sector saw few major battles but remained the scene of constant daily danger. The 2nd Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers and 1st Royal Warwickshires began to bury their comrades here in November 1914. Named after Major Charles Prowse of the Somerset Light Infantry, and used until after the war, it is one of the earliest surviving battlefield cemeteries in the area.
Polygon Wood was fiercely contested. Taken at the end of October 1914, it was lost in 1915 then recaptured by Australian forces in September 1917. Lost again in the spring of 1918, it was finally gained by the 9th (Scottish) Division in September 1918. A front-line cemetery used between August 1917 and 1918, the arrangement of headstones here reflects the original pattern of burials.
British Cemetery and New Zealand Memorial
Close to Polygon Wood, this cemetery was created after the Armistice when the bodies of those who fell on the surrounding battlefields were brought here, including many casualties of the fighting in 1917. Standing within the cemetery is the memorial to members of New Zealand forces who fought in this sector between September 1917 and May 1918 and who have no known grave.
On 31 October 1914, British staff officers of two divisions were wiped out when Hooge Chateau was shelled and the area became the scene of fierce fighting. In July 1915 the detonation of explosives in a mine created an enormous crater which remains today. This cemetery was begun by Commonwealth forces in October 1917, and originally contained 76 graves before being greatly expanded after the Armistice.
Bedford House Cemetery
Bedford House was the name given by soldiers to Chateau Rosendal, a country house near Ypres in a small moated park which was gradually destroyed by shell fire. It was used by field ambulances and unit headquarters, and several small cemeteries were created here. Greatly enlarged after the war, one entire plot contains the graves of men whose remains were discovered in the 1930s.