Monday 31st of July marked the one hundredth anniversary of the start of the third battle of Ypres, one of the bloodiest and most horrific in the First World War. After 3 months of carnage, and 103 days of fighting, more than half a million soldiers from across the world lay dead or injured in the cloying Passchendaele mud in Flanders fields, many of them from far distant New Zealand, Australia and Canada.
At a poignant and moving ceremony held at the Tyne Cot Cemetery near Ypres on Monday to commemorate the centenary of the battle, Charles Prince of Wales paid tribute to the British and Allied soldiers who fought at Passchendaele.
Tyne Cot was the name given by the British soldiers to the centre of a German stronghold of pillboxes. It was finally captured on 4 October 1917.
Almost 12 000 British and Commonwealth soldiers lie buried in Tyne Cot’s graves; almost three quarters of them have no known name, but bear the inscription “Known unto God”.
A further 34,000 men who could not be identified or whose bodies were never found have their names inscribed on a memorial crucifix at the Cemetery. The Tyne Cot Cross of Sacrifice incorporates a German pillbox in its construction. Some 4,000 descendants of soldiers attended the ceremony on Monday to pay their respects, and shed tears of remembrance.
Prince Charles was joined at the ceremony by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Philippe King of the Belgians and Queen Mathilde.
In his speech to the assembled gathering, Prince Charles said: “The battle we know today as Passchendaele would last for over 100 days. We remember it not only for the rain that fell, the mud that weighed down the living and swallowed the dead, but also for the courage and bravery of the men who fought here.”
“The advance was slow and every inch was hard fought. The land we stand upon was taken two months into the battle by the 3rd Australian Division. It would change hands twice again before the end of the war.”
“Thinking of these men, my great-grandfather (George Vth) remarked: “I have many times asked myself whether there can be more potent advocates of peace upon earth through the years to come, than this massed multitude of silent witnesses to the desolation of war”.”
Prince Charles also quoted from a famous war correspondent; “In 1920, the war reporter Philip Gibbs – who had himself witnessed the Third Battle of Ypres – wrote that ‘nothing that has been written is more than the pale image of the abomination of those battlefields, and that no pen or brush has yet achieved the picture of that Armageddon in which so many of our men perished.”
“Drawn from many nations, we come together in their resting place, cared for with such dedication by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, to commemorate their sacrifice and to promise that we will never forget.”
Tyne Cot Cemetery is a chilling reminder of the folly of war, and the catastrophic human cost of armed conflict. It teaches a lesson beyond words for the current generation of young people in Europe who have grown up in an unprecedented era of peace.
Charles toured the battlefield with Philippe King of the Belgians and Queen Mathilde.