Address by HRH The Prince of Wales at the Passchendaele Service at Tyne Cot Cemetery
31st July 2017
One hundred years ago today, the Third Battle of Ypres began. At ten to four in the morning, less than five miles from here, thousands of men drawn from across Britain, France and the Commonwealth attacked German lines. The battle we know today as Passchendaele would last for over one hundred 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.
In 1922, my great grandfather, King George V, came here as part of a pilgrimage to honour all those who died in the First World War. Whilst visiting Tyne Cot, he stood before the pillbox that this Cross of Sacrifice has been built upon, a former German stronghold that had dominated the ridge.
Once taken by the Allies, the pillbox became a forward aid post to treat the wounded. Those who could not be saved were buried by their brothers in arms in make-shift graves; these became the headstones that are before us today.
After the end of the war, almost 12,000 graves of British and Commonwealth soldiers were brought here from surrounding battlefields. Today, a further 34,000 men, who could not be identified or whose bodies were never found have their names inscribed on the memorial.
Thinking of these men, my great grandfather 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.”
In 1920, the war reporter, Philip Gibbs – who had himself witnessed Third 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.