Etaples Cemetery

Etaples Cemetery - Photograph by permission of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission


Etaples is a town about 27 kilometres south of Boulogne. The Military Cemetery is to the north of the town, on the west side of the road to Boulogne.

During the First World War, the area around Etaples was the scene of immense concentrations of Commonwealth reinforcement camps and hospitals. In 1917, 100,000 troops were camped among the sand dunes and the hospitals, (which included eleven general, one stationary, four Red Cross hospitals and a convalescent depot), could deal with 22,000 wounded or sick. For those waiting to go to the front it could seem a dark place.

Wilfred Owen described it as

“A vast, dreadful encampment. It seemed neither France nor England, but a kind of paddock where the beasts are kept a few days before the shambles … Chiefly I thought of the very strange look on all the faces in that camp; an incomprehensible look, which a man will never see in England; nor can it be seen in any battle, but only in Étaples. It was not despair, or terror, it was more terrible than terror, for it was a blindfold look, and without expression, like a dead rabbit’s.”
[Collected Letters, Oxford University Press].

In September 1919, ten months after the Armistice, three hospitals and the Q.M.A.A.C. convalescent depot remained.

The cemetery contains 10,771 Commonwealth burials of the First World War, the earliest dating from May 1915. 35 of these burials are unidentified. There are 90 burials of the Yorkshire Regiment.

The cemetery, which is the largest Commission cemetery in France, was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens.

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