Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Tyne Cot

Daniel and I are on a family pilgrimage to Belgium.

We have a family link to Tyne Cot Cemetery in Belgium.  My great uncle, Thomas Eaton (my mother’s uncle) has his name recorded on the wall in the NZ section of the WW1 cemetery.  He has no known grave dying on the first day the NZ Division was involved in the 3rd Battle of Ypres.

My great grandmother had six children (no TV).  Two of her sons served in WW1, with Thomas dying at Ypres and Laurie dying of the Spanish Flu on his return to NZ.  My grandfather was too young for WW1 and too old for WW2.  A lucky age!

Tyne Cot was in German held territory and reputedly named by the Northumberland Division because the shape of the concrete bunkhouse was similar to a typical Tyneside workers' cottage – Tyne cots.

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The main entrance to Tyne Cot Cemetery

The suggestion for the erection of the cross at the cemetery was apparently made by King George V during a visited to the cemetery in 1922.  The base of the cross encases the original German bunkhouse.

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A small portion of the original concrete bunkhouse can be seen in the middle of the above photo.

The terrain around the cemetery is low rolling Belgium countryside with the bunkhouse on a slightly higher piece of ground dominating the area.  It was therefore tactically important.  The bunkhouse and surrounding ground was captured by the 3rd Australian Division early in the battle.  However it changed hands several times before being taken for the final time in 1918 by Belgium forces.

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The surrounding countryside

After the war the King of Belgium gave the land the cemetery occupies to the people who lay there.  The maintenance of the cemetery was eventually giving to the newly created Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

At the end of the war the allied dead from nearby graves were consolidated at Tyne Cot and it eventually became the largest British cemetery on the western front.

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After completing the construction of the Menin Gate memorial it was quickly realised there would be insufficient room to record all the names of those who had been killed and had no known grave.   All those who died after 15 August 1917 would have their names recorded on a wall which would be constructed at Tyne Cot (see photo below)

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The NZ contingent of the recently formed Commonwealth War Graves Commission refused to have the names of their dead consolidated and insisted they be listed at the nearest cemetery to the location of the soldiers death.  At Tyne Cot there is a New Zealand Apse built into the wall.

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NZ Apse

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We found my great uncle’s name on the second panel.

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His name is also recorded on the war memorial in his home town of Dannevirke, NZ.  I took the following photo in 2009 during our last visit to NZ.

The War Memorial

Tom Eaton

Searching for additional information has been interesting.

32150 Pte Thomas Eaton of Te Papakuku, Hawkes Bay, NZ
Auckland Infantry Regiment, 1st Battalion

He was from the Hawkes Bay and if he had enlisted at the beginning of WW1 would have been in the Wellington & Hawkes Bay Regiment.  However by 1916 NZ had suffered heavy losses and a decision had been made to avoid reinforcements being geographically grouped as it was realised areas of NZ might be stripped of men after the war.  So he was allocated to the Auckland Regiment reinforcements.

Losses had been heavy and the number of suitable men volunteering had fallen so conscription was introduced in August 1916.  This wasn’t popular and led to subsequent ‘issues’.  My guess is my great uncle was either conscripted or as a carpenter he had been in a protected occupation until 1916.

On 15 Nov 1916 he sailed for the UK from Wellington NZ aboard the Maunganui arriving in Plymouth on 30 January 1917.   He was killed on the opening day of the first battle of Passchendaele 12 October 1917.

New Zealand had one of the highest casualty-and death-rates per capita of any country involved in

Total troops 138 304
Volunteer  83 024
Conscripted  32 270
Served overseas 100,000 from pop of just over 1 million
killed 16697
wounded 41 397
casualty rate 58%

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