many graves with ‘Known unto God’ carved onto their headstones. About 12,000 people are buried here, some named, others not. Across the Salient area there are smaller cemeteries, each with their own special poignancy.
The story goes that ‘Tyne Cot’ was the nickname given to a German stronghold just outside Passchendaele by some Northumberland Fusiliers because the cottages there reminded them of those back home. It’s certainly true that soldiers facing the daily realities of trench warfare found ways of making the ‘foreign field’ a bit more familiar. It shows them making a link with home, perhaps to give them something to keep going for.
Many places were given nicknames by soldiers who struggled with the local language as well as with homesickness. Ypres itself was often called ‘Wipers’ and the pointed black humour of the ‘Wipers Times’ is one way we have of remembering that.
When Tyne Cot was taken by Australian soldiers in October 1917, they used it as an advanced dressing station and those who died of their wounds were buried on the spot. The name supposedly coined by those Geordie lads stuck. Designated as a British Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery, it grew in the following years, as more bodies were unearthed. It was officially inaugurated in 1927 with the layout designed by Sir Herbert Baker. The ‘Memorial to the Missing’ on the rear wall has the names of 35,000 British and New Zealand servicemen on it: soldiers who bodies have never been recovered or identified.
So- here we have our brief introduction to the battered city of Ypres and the Menin Gate memorial, now known the world over. We can grasp something about Tyne Cot cemetery and the nearby village of Passchendaele whose very name is reminiscent of the pitiful loss of life in those churned up fields. Tragic, historic and yet compelling places to visit. The stories are told again and again. I believe they will always be told.
But it’s not just tragedy that emerges from this battle-scarred place: hope and humanity emerge as well.
And if we take ourselves away from the trenches, back a bit from the front line, just out of range of German weaponry, we find the small town of Poperinge. Not known much outside Belgium before 1914, it soon became as busy as a metropolis, being safe enough to bring in troops and supplies of all kinds. Poperinge was not always beyond the reach of German guns, however, and did experience direct hits and fatalities.
It is just 8 minutes down the train line from Ypres nowadays- it probably took a lot longer a hundred years ago.
To the British soldiers, so fond of their homely nicknames, it became ‘good old Pops’ and it’s here we find the club that is in the title of this piece. Let’s visit there now!
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