Tyne Cot – The Silent City

At every turn around Ypres there is a sign for a World War 1 cemetery. We decided to visit Tyne Cot, just a short drive from Zonnebeke and Ypres and the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world.

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Parking at the side of the road, we started our visit at the very impressive and well laid out visitor centre. Lots of fascinating information, personal stories, artefacts and letters and so much to read and take in. Constantly flashing up on a wall is a picture of a solder killed in the conflict together with his name, age and regiment. Very sombre and very moving.

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Outside it really hits home. Rows and rows and rows of headstones – 11,956 burial plots in this place alone. The numbers become reality and the scale of the slaughter is very apparent. Just in this little area alone 400,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers lost their lives.

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The headstones are immaculately tended and the atmosphere is peaceful and respectful. We walked and looked.

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Son had bought earlier a poppy cross and spontaneously decided to lay it on the grave of an unknown soldier.

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We sought out the graves belonging to four young German men also buried here. Only one has been named.

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This is one of the “Silent Cities”, somewhere you cannot easily get out of your head, nor should it be.

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40 thoughts on “Tyne Cot – The Silent City

  1. Always a sombre experience to visit a war graves cemetery. A few years ago I went to Étaples which has a similar number of graves (12,000) and I was left speechless bythe rows and rows of pristine headstones standing like soldiers on parade.

  2. Very moving. I get the same sort of feeling in US Civil War cemeteries and Arlington which we visited last year – when will we ever learn the futility of war. Rhetorical, and glib, question, but I do despair.

  3. Very moving tribute Joy. I have visited the American cemetery at Arromanches a couple of times – the first when I was only 17 and I remember trying to imagine what it must have been like for those poor young men who were barely older than I was then. You never forget visiting such places and yet it seems in so many parts of the world lessons from history are not learnt. Lovely gesture by your son and a lovely post. Wishing you a great weekend 🙂

    • A place like this really hits home doesn’t it Rosemary, just the sheer number of white gravestones and the ages of the young men is unbearably sad and poignant. Like you say though lessons never seem to be learnt! I found it so moving here, we visited Arromanches close to 20 years ago too but I have only just booked a house in Normandy for next summer so plan to return then, all being well!! Have a great weekend too.

      • Sad and poignant sum it up Joy 😦 On a happier note a house in Normandy in the summer months sounds wonderful! I stayed in an old stone farmhouse with a local family when I was 17 and have happy memories of my time there (I was there nearly a month on an exchange) 🙂

      • At least a couple of weeks is a reasonable time for a break Joy but I know what you mean. Even though we usually take 3 to 4 weeks for visiting the Uk a lot of that time is taken up with family and commitments and we get about 10 days at most for a break. One day we hope to have more time…..!

  4. Your photos do a wonderful job of showing the overwhelming feel of the huge number of headstones and expanse of the cemetery grounds. I’m sure you’re right that, seeing it in person, affects people WAY more than just hearing the numbers. The cemetery looks like a serene and lovely resting place.

    • The cemetery is incredibly beautiful and so well maintained and looked after – definitely a lovely resting place. You just can’t get out of your head though the vast numbers of young men slaughtered in this area and the ages on the headstones make it even more poignant.

  5. Very moving, Joy. Reminds me of the American Cemetary in Normandy, though I have never seen one that flashes faces in a wall like that. Very sad. Thank you for sharing and have a nice weekend.

    • Thanks George! The faces appearing on the wall was a simple thing but very haunting and mesmerizing. The cemetery had a big effect on us, not a place you forget ever. Hope your weekend is a great one too!

  6. OMG! You went to Tyne Cot Cemetery! It is indeed the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world…and it makes you quiet, humble,…even gives you goosebumps (like the Last Post)….just like you said it doesn’t get out of your head…

  7. It is impossible not to be moved by the rows upon rows of near identical, stark, white grave markers in war cemeteries. All those lives so abruptly cut short is quite arresting. As a family historian, I find myself frequently stumbling across a boy in the 1911 Census and knowing he has but a few years to live before he dies in France or Belgium. The scale of the tragedy of WW1 – of both World Wars – is incomprehensible. I have family members buried at Tyne Cot so it is another war cemetery I must visit some time.

  8. I love that you took your son here. It isn’t the first place that comes to mind with kids, but now that I think about it my girls are fascinated with graveyards and cemeteries. Always trying to come up with new ideas..thanks for this one!

    • We had plunged ourselves into the whole history about WW1 beforehand and knew about the numbers of young men killed in the conflict but seeing it stark and clear before your eyes here really hit a nerve. Our son was just as moved as we were. Now that I think of it though, we have been to graveyards and cemeteries in different places and always found them intriguing – Key West, New Orleans, Paris etc. you can find some fascinating stuff there.

  9. Very moving and sombre Joy, it’s reading these posts of yours that makes us realise how lucky we are, and how much we owe to all these relatively young men who died for their country. Your son is amazing too, I thought that was brilliant that he should feel compelled to place the poppy on one of the unknown soldiers’ graves.

    • We felt very humbled and very grateful visiting this place for those young men and what they did for us. I was glad when my son decided to do that, shows this place got to him and much as us!!

  10. No I can imagine your visit lingers on your mind for a long time. It seems strange to visit a cemetery, when you think of the context but it’s important to pay respect to the lives lost – all 11,956 of those buried. That’s very sweet of your son to lay a poppy at a grave.

  11. I wish everyone in the world would see these kind of memorials and understand the futility of violence. But you know the quote from Douglas Adams -“Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.”

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