Monday, 21 March 2016

Etaples Military Cemetery, France

Maria Coates has visited and extensively researched Etaples British Military Cemetery in France and recently posted this to Facebook Group Cemeteries and Memorials of the Great War:

Maria has very kindly given me permission to share the fantastic information she has gathered about Etaples on my weblog.

"The Inspirational Women of the Great War who died and are buried in Etaples Military Cemetery Pas de Calais, France.

The Crimson Coast

The Crimson Coast was the name given to the northern French and Belgian coastline during the Great War.  Hospitals situated along the Channel coastline were part of the casualty evacuation chain and were located fifty or so miles further back from the frontline than the Casualty Clearing Stations in France and Flanders. They also needed to be close to railway lines to receive the casualties and close to a port where the soldiers could eventually be evacuated back to Britain for longer term treatment.

Etaples during the Great War

Etaples, a coastal fishing port situated about 15 miles south of Boulogne in France, was used as the main British Base Depot in WW1.  To the north of the port is where the British established a large infantry training camp and a complex of 11 numbered Commonwealth General Hospitals, one Stationary, four Red Cross Hospitals and a Convalescent Depot. These almost entirely comprised of huts and tents and could deal with 22,000 wounded and sick soldiers.

Etaples was well away from the Front Line and therefore relatively safe from attack, the only exception being bombing raids made by aircraft.   Unfortunately, the hospitals were bombed several times in 1918 as a result of their location alongside the Boulogne to Paris railway which accessed both the Northern and Southern Battlefields. They were also adjacent to the major complex of training camps which were the main targets.

One Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse, Vera Brittain, experienced over a month of night time air raids, resulting in her being exhausted and more frightened than ever.  Vera left Etaples before the worst bombing raids of May, June and August 1918, in which many patients, nurses and other VADS were killed in these hospitals.

Etaples Military Cemetery

As with other areas in the theatres of war, cemeteries sprang up around hospitals and Casualty Clearing Stations, etc.  

In September 1919, three hospitals and the Queen Mary Army Auxiliary Corps Convalescent Depot still remained in Etaples some ten months after the Armistice of November 1918.   In Etaples Military Cemetery, some of the headstones of nurses and other Voluntary Aid Detachment volunteers bear post-war dates. Most of those deaths were as a result of the Influenza epidemic that followed the war.

At the end of the First World War, Etaples Military Cemetery contained 10,816 identified casualties, 35 unidentified casualties, totalling 10,771. 10,751 of those were male and 20 female casualties.

During the Second World War, hospitals were again situated at Etaples and once again the Cemetery was used for burials from January 1940 until the evacuation at the end of May 1940. After the end of the Second World War, graves from other cemeteries in France were moved to Etaples - 119 identified and 38 unidentified bodies.

Also buried in Etaples Military Cemetery are the bodies of 662 Non Commonwealth people, mainly German, together with 5 Non World War service burials.   It is worth noting that the cut off date to count as First World War dead for the purposes of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission was 31st August 1921. "   Maria Coates, 2016.

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