November 10, 2017. While we were in Zonnebeke, we made a stop on the war memorial trail at Tyne Cot Cemetery. In France, unless it was a big cemetery or memorial, like Vimy Ridge or Beau Hamel, there were few visitors. In Belgium, to our surprise, members of car and motorcycle clubs visited the various cemeteries and memorials as part of their touring schedules. During our visit to Tyne Cot Cemetery, a club for a car named Burton stopped on their own war memorial rally tour.
The Burton is a Dutch sports car based on French 2CV technology. The Burton is an open, nostalgic-looking sports car built on the chassis of the 2CV with a modern fibreglass body and built from a kit. Of course, car-mad Pieter couldn’t resist taking a few photos as he made his way from the parking lot to the cemetery.
Tyne Cot Cemetery is the largest Commonwealth War Cemetery in the world, with 11,956 graves, of which 1,011 are Canadian. Most were killed during the Battle of Passchendaele. In addition, 34,957 soldiers with no known grave, who died after August 15, 1917, have their names engraved on the cemetery walls. Those soldiers with no known grave who died before August 15, 1917 are listed on the Menin Gate Memorial (See A Daytime Visit To Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres).
Surprisingly, with the large number of war dead in Tyne Cot, no one from the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion is buried or commemorated there. But if you are on a war memorial trail, it would be a shame to miss seeing the largest cemetery.
As we made our way to the cemetery and the visitors centre, we passed by a grassy area of plastic poppies with messages from the public in Britain. This was an initiative of the Royal British Legion’s Passchendaele 100 Memorial, who collected the poppies and brought them to the cemetery. Some of the messages commemorated a loved one, others were very general in nature. It certainly made for a colourful display!
We learned that a Victoria Cross recipient from the 27th (City of Winnipeg) Battalion is buried here, James Peter Robertson, a private who was killed on November 6, 1917 during the final phase of the Battle of Passchendaele. When his platoon was blocked by barbed wire and a German machine gun, he dashed to an opening in the enemy position, and rushed the gun, killing four German soldiers and turning the machine gun on the rest of the Germans. This allowed the platoon to continue towards its objective. Afterwards, when two Canadian snipers were wounded in front of their trench, he went out and carried one in, while under fire. Unfortunately, he was killed as he returned with the second man. With Daria being from Winnipeg, Pieter of course visited the grave of this soldier and placed flags.
We are continually humbled by the depth of sacrifice from the soldiers. Like in northern France, you can’t go very far before you encounter another cemetery or memorial. As we continued on the War Memorial Trail, we thought of the two other soldiers from the Cenotaph project who died in this area, George Campbell and Charles Buxton, and whose names are on the Menin Gate Memorial.
As Buxton was with the Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry, our next stop was the Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry Memorial in Zonnebeke. Comments or stories? You can share them by emailing us at email@example.com or by commenting on this blog.
© Daria Valkenburg