dinsdag 11 februari 2014

Tyne Cot: the biggest CWGC cemetery

Tyne Cot is the name of the biggest Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery (CWGC) in Europe:with 12,000 graves – may known unto God – and the names of another 35,000 “missed in action”. The names of those who died in the Ypres Salient (Flanders Fields) after August 15, 1917 are commemorated here. The soldiers who died in this salient before that date, are commemorated at the Menin Gate, Ypres (Ieper).
Before the war, the Tyne Cot area was known as the 'rozenveld - field of roses' (i.e. poppies). For the soldiers of the Northumberland Regiment who served here, the area remembered them of the cottages near the river Tyne.

When WW1 started, every side taught that it would end after a short campaign of about 40 days.
The reality was different.  After the battle of the Somme (1916) it became clear that never ever the logistics could be developed to bring the killed soldiers back to their homeland.

The Ieper (Ypres) Salient was the scene for 3 major battles:

Ypres I (Oct. 19th - Nov. 22nd, 1914)
was a very dramatic moment in WW1: the last 'gap' in the 460km (286mi) long front from the French/German border (close to Metz/Nancy) to the Belgian Northsea Coast was closed - this implied that the war went from dynamic to static --> 'in trenches'.  In remained like that for more than 4 years.

Ypres II (Apr. 22nd - May 25th, 1915)
At that point in time, the Canadians entered the war. Most of them were engineers, who had to build bridges over the river Ijzer (= the frontline). 
On April 22nd the Germans used, for the 1st time ever, chloric gas (6,000 canisters !). Therefore, Ypres II is the beginning of chemical warfare worldwide.
The Canadian physician Dr. John Mc Crae (known from the immortal poem 'In Flanders Fields) had his surgery quarters very near the point in the frontline where the gas was first used.

Ypres III (July 31st - Nov. 11th, 1917)
This was the largest massacre of all, costing nearly 500,000 casualties for an advance of 9km (5,6mi) from Messines and Ypres to the Passchendale ridge. On Apr. 13th, 1918 the Germans reconquered the ridge until Sept 28th, 1918, when the Belgian Army  captured the ridge in the final push during the last weeks of the war.
On Tyne Cot, situated on the Passchendale ridge, 2 German bunkers and 1 'Blockhaus' make the conditions the soldiers where up against very visible.

The defence line that the Germans constructed around Zonnebeke-Passendale (1916) was called Flandern I Stellung. It was a network of concrete bunkers, that the British called “pill-boxes’.  At some critical spots, the distance between the bunkers was only 150 yrds. The defence was secured by just a few man and a machine gun. When attacked, the system responded with a continuous wall of fire.

Only 4% of the Belgian territory (20km wide) was unoccupied during WW1.  Ieper (Ypres) was the center of this area, through which passed 5,000,000 soldiers of the British Empire during this war.

In this area, you will discover many names of English, Canadian, Australian, Indian, New-Zealand young men, all serving under the British Empire.

Soldiers buried on Tyne Cot by country:
UK                     8,962
Canada             1,011
Australia            1,369. On Tyne Cot all New-Zealanders 'missed in action' are remembered in a special apsis, which is a part of the 'Tyne Cot Memorial of the Missing'.  
New Zealand        520
South Africa           90
Germany                  4

Total Burials:  11,956

There are no Belgian soldiers buried on Tyne Cot (their sector was more to the N., in the direction of the Northsea).

During the Passchendale battle, in total 65 Victorian Crosses (V.C.'s) were awarded. 3 VC's are buried on Tyne Cot: 
·         Captain Clarence Smith Jeffries, VC, of the 34th Battalion Australian Infantry, killed in action on 12/10/1917, Plot XL. E 1. 
·         Sergeant Lewis McGee, VC, 40th Battalion Australian Infantry, killed in action 12/10/1917,  Plot XX. D 1.
·         Private James Peter Robertson, VC, 27th (Manitoba) Battalion Canadian Infantry, killed in action 06/11/1917,  Plot LVIII.  D. 26. 

4 Types of graves were used during WW1 
  • Field grave (Gel√§ndegraber): reversed gun with helmet of the victim on top. The place of the grave was marked. Most of these graves got lost during later artillerie duels.
  • Battlefield graves: on the battlefield itself, mostly around an aid or hospital post. These are small grave yards where the commemoration stones are placed in an irregular order.
  • War cemeteries, where victims were buried per regiment or per group of regiments.--> Grave yards in the neighbourhood of major hospitals.
  • Concentration cemeteries, of which Tyne Cot is the biggest.
The start of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission 
When Fabian Ware (Commander of mobile unit A of the Red Cross and former journalist of ‘The Morning Post’) arrived on the Ypres front in Oct. 1914, he noticed that there was no registration system for the many war graves on the front. So he made lists with the coordinates of the graves. In March 1915 his work was recognized and the Graves Registration Commission was installed. In 1916 the Commission became the Directorate of Graves Registration and Enquiries and Lt. Col. Ware was the chief of 700 registration soldiers.

Art. 225 of the Versailles peace treaty stipulated that the graves of all parties had to be respected, but only the allies were allowed to search, identify and register the death. First there was a long discussion if the dead soldiers should be returned home or if they should be burried in the region where they got killed.

After the demobilisation, there were only 700 man left to do the job (identification and registration of the tens of thousands death in de region) while it was estimated that about 15,000 persons were needed to finish the registration.  So in 1919 8,600 men were recruted. By september 1921 they had reburied 200,000 soldiers. The recruits got the help of labour companies (Chinese and German POW’s)

The quest for buried soldiers was done systematically. On the basis of former ‘burial sheets’
a piece of land of about 75*75 ft  (23 m √† 500m²) was marked by means of flags. The exhumation companies were divided in squads of 32 persons. Usually the work was organized in groups of 4.
Standard equipment was: 2 pair of rubber gloves, 2 shovels, a pair of barb wire nippers, a set of markers and lots of canvas and rope to put the bodies in.  A strong indication that a body was buried somewhere, where the nearby ratholes.

In spite of the searches, bodies where discovered continiously until the beginning of WW II.

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