The Commonwealth War Graves Commissions commemorates more than 200,000 Commonwealth casualties of the two world wars on our memorials and in our war cemeteries in Belgium. Read on to discover more about our work in Belgium, discover some of our sites and plan your visit.
How many war cemeteries are in Belgium?
There are 618 sites across Belgium that contain CWGC war dead. Many of the bigger sites date from World War One, as the front lines ran through Belgium for the majority of the war.
How many WW1 cemeteries are there in Belgium?
There are 379 cemeteries in Belgium that contain casualties from World War One. Some of these are large sites such as Tyne Cot Cemetery and Poelcapelle British Cemetery, but there are many smaller sites and individual burials in civilian sites across the country.
How many WW2 cemeteries are there in Belgium?
There are 327 cemeteries in Belgium that contain burials from World War Two. Many of these are small numbers of burials in civilian sites, many of whom were airmen who were shot down or suffered from mechanical issues over Belgium, and buried close to their crash site, as well as larger sites commemorating those who died in the initial German invasion of Belgium, and those who died in during the liberation.
What’s the largest war cemetery in Belgium?
The largest war cemetery in Belgium is Tyne Cot Cemetery, which contains close to 12,000 burials all from World War One, however only 3613 of the burials here are identified. Tyne Cot is also the largest CWGC cemetery anywhere in the world.
World War 1 cemeteries in Belgium
Germany’s invasion of Belgium in the summer of 1914 pulled Britain and her Empire into the war. The ferocity of the fighting would devastate the Belgian countryside and the sheer number of human lives lost would mean that places like Ypres, Passchendaele and Messines would forever be associated with the death and destruction of the First World War.
Even today, casualties of the First World War are still being discovered in Belgium. All efforts are then made to identify them before they are reburied alongside their comrades at one of our Belgian cemeteries, such as Ypres Reservoir Cemetery where four WW1 soldiers were recently reburied.
Tyne Cot cemetery
Tyne Cot Cemetery is the largest CWGC cemetery in the world. It contains the graves and memorials to more than 11,960 servicemen of the British Empire, of whom more than 8,370 remain unidentified. At the top of the cemetery stands the Tyne Cot Memorial which bears the names of nearly 34,950 servicemen of the British Empire who died in Belgium and have no known grave.
The cemetery name is said to have come from the Northumberland Fusiliers, who saw a likeness between the German fortifications and the Tyneside cottages of home. Some of these pillboxes are still present in the cemetery today, with the largest one acting as a base for Tyne Cot’s Cross of Sacrifice.
Among the 3,600 identified burials at Tyne Cot Cemetery are three Victoria Cross winners - the highest honour for Commonwealth soldiers of the world wars, awarded for acts of extreme valour and bravery in the presence of an enemy.
One of these burials is Private James Peter Robertson, a Canadian Infantryman who was part of the attack at the Second Battle of Passchendaele. When his unit’s advance was stopped by uncut barbed wire and fierce resistance from a machine gun emplacement, he made a flanking manoeuvre, spotting a gap in the wire and single handedly rushing the machine gun.
The London Gazette (8 January 1918) records: “after a desperate struggle with the crew, killed four and then turned the gun on the remainder, who, overcome by the fierceness of his onslaught, were running towards their own lines. His gallant work enabled the platoon to advance. He inflicted many more casualties among the enemy, and then carrying the captured machine gun, he led his platoon to the final objective. He there selected an excellent position and got the gun into action, firing on the retreating enemy who by this time were quite demoralised by the fire brought to bear on them.”
Robertson was killed later that same day, helping to rescue two men who had been wounded in front of his trench, and was buried on the battlefield. He was discovered following the war and buried at Tyne Cot in January 1921.
Passchendaele New British Cemetery, Belgium
Like nearby Tyne Cot, Passchendaele New British Cemetery was formed on the battlefields of the Ypres Salient, in the village of Passchendaele, the site of some of the bloodiest fighting of the war.
Passchendaele saw fighting throughout the war, however the region is most known for the Battle of Passchendaele - also known as the Third Battle of Ypres - in the second half of 1917, an attack by Commonwealth soldiers from the Ypres Salient in Flanders, that saw more than 200,000 casualties on both sides, although some historians argue that the casualty numbers were even higher.
There are more than 2000 burials at Passchendaele New British Cemetery, and the vast majority of them remain unidentified. Of the 504 identified burials in the cemetery, most are from the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada - alongside 43 from New Zealand and a single South African burial.
Bedford House Cemetery, Belgium
In the former grounds of the Chateau Rosendal - known to the British soldiers encamped in the region as Bedford House or Woodcote House - are buried more than 5000 Commonwealth servicemen of the First World War.
The chateau, located a few miles south of Ieper, was used as a headquarters and for field ambulances, by the British Army. While the area stayed in Allied hands throughout the war, it was often a target of German Artillery, and the house and surrounding woodland was flattened by the shell fire.
The first burials were made in what would become Bedford House Cemetery in 1915. These were predominantly casualties that had been evacuated from the fighting and died while receiving medical treatment. Following the end of the war, burials from other, smaller sites were brought to Bedford House, and in the years after the war, casualties discovered in the Ypres salient were often brought here for burial - in the 1930s, a new enclosure of the site was created for the war dead that were still being found in the Belgian countryside.
Belgium's World War 2 cemeteries
For the second time in the Twentieth Century, Belgium became a battleground as the German Blitzkrieg swept in from the East. This time, however, the conflict did not bog down into the static trench warfare of World War One. Instead, in 1941, the Allies were swept back to the coast and then back across the channel, not to return to Belgium until 1944.
Heverlee War Cemetery
After the evacuation at Dunkirk, the battle in western Europe was fought in the sky. Nightly bombing raids became the only way for the Allies to attack targets in Germany and across Europe.
RAF Bomber Command had one of the highest rates of attrition in the war, with 45% of aircrew killed on operations, either through mechanical malfunctions, from anti-air fire or shot down by the dreaded Luftwaffe night fighters.
Heverlee War Cemetery is the final resting place of nearly 1000 Commonwealth burials of World War Two. It was formed in 1946 following the end of the war primarily as a permanent site for the burials from the 101st British General Hospital which was housed in a nearby school.
More than 700 of the casualties buried here are air crew who were buried in smaller plots, civilian cemeteries and burial grounds, near to where they crashed, and then brought to Heverlee after the war to be buried alongside their comrades.
Geel war cemetery, Belgium
One of the biggest hurdles for the Allied forces to jump in 1944 was the Albert Canal. Completely shortly before the outbreak of World War Two, the canal was a natural spot for a defensive line. As the Allies continued their liberation of Belgium and prepared to push towards Holland, the German defenders dug in.
On 8 September 1944, Allied forces made the initial push across the canal. Despite fierce resistance, they were able to establish a bridgehead, and then build a bridge across the canal, meaning tanks and other reinforcements could be committed to the fray.
By 10 September 1944, the Allies were advancing on the city of Geel. Both sides fought hard to control the city. The British attackers were forced back to the canal by a fierce German counterattack, but the German losses were high, and they were eventually pushed back and forced to retreat to the Mass-Scheldt Canal.
The battle would continue until 23 September, when the German defenders were finally withdrawn, giving the Allies a vital crossing of the Mass-Scheldt canal at Ten Aard. Today, more than 400 men who died in the fighting in Geel and in the surrounding area are buried at the CWGC’s Geel War Cemetery.
Australian war cemeteries, Belgium
Australian forces played a vital role in Belgium in the later years of World War One. The Battle of Messines in June 1917 was the first major engagement for troops in Belgium. The Australians were part of a combined Commonwealth force that looked to take control of the Messines ridge - an area of high ground overlooking the Ypres Salient, heavily fortified by German defenders.
In the early hours of 7 June 1917, Commonwealth forces detonated powerful mines under the ridge before moving forwards to capture the positions and then defend them from German counter attacks.
Messines Ridge British Cemetery was formed after the war, when war dead from across the battlefields, as well as numerous smaller cemeteries in the region, were brought into one larger cemetery. Many of these burials had been made quickly during the fighting, so a large number of them remain unidentified. Nearly 600 of the 1,500 burials here are identified, of which over 200 are Australian casualties.
Canadian war cemeteries, Belgium
The cemetery with the largest number of identified Canadian burials in Belgium is Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery near Poperinge close to the French-Belgian border.
The village of Lijssenthoek was home to the casualty clearing stations that serviced the front lines in and around the Ypres salient - an area that saw fierce fighting throughout World War One. More than 1,000 Canadian war dead are buried here, alongside representatives from across the Commonwealth, as well as American burials and members of the Chinese Labour Corps.
Adegem Canadian War Cemetery contains the largest number of Canadian Burials of World War Two, with more than 800 identified burials there. Most of these burials are casualties that died during the Battle of the Scheldt, in October and November 1944. The Allies had seized control of the port of Antwerp, however vital supply convoys could not get through, as German forces remained in control of the estuary.
The First Canadian Army was dispatched to secure access to the port against a determined German defensive action. The battle lasted for five weeks, and cost the lives of more than 12,000 Allied casualties, around half of them Canadian, who are now commemorated at sites in Belgium and the Netherlands.
German war cemeteries, Belgium
There are over 1,500 identified German burials cared for by the CWGC in Belgium.
The CWGC cemetery in Belgium with the largest number of German burials is St. Symphorien Military Cemetery, which was initially established by the German Army during the opening weeks of the war. Many of the burials here were German and Commonwealth casualties of the Battle of Mons, August 1914, where a large German force overwhelmed a resolute British defence to cross a canal near Obourg.
Remarkably, St. Symphorien Military Cemetery is known as the burial place of both the first and last British casualties of World War One. Private John Parr died on 21 August 1914 as part of a scouting party ahead of the Battle of Mons and was buried, likely by German troops, on the battlefield. After the war, his burial was found and moved to St. Symphorien.
On 11 November 1918, at about half past nine in the morning, Private George Edwin Ellison was on patrol near Mons. He was shot by a sniper and killed. At 11 o’clock the Armistice, that had been signed that morning, came into effect, ending the hostilities.
Lommel German War Cemetery is operated by the German War Graves Commission, Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge, close to the Belgian border with the Netherlands. The site contains close to 40,000 German casualties, primarily from World War Two, who were brought from battlefields across Belgium and buried here.
Visiting CWGC war cemeteries in Belgium
You can discover more about our cemeteries and memorials across Belgium through our Find Cemetery and Memorial search tool on our website. You can see all of our sites across the country, or break down your results by region if you’re planning a trip away. You’ll be able to see visiting information as well as some historical information about each of our sites, as well as a link to find out more about the Commonwealth casualties commemorated there.
Ieper Information Centre, Belgium
No trip to Belgium would be complete without visiting the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Ieper Information Centre. Located in the heart of Ieper, just a stone’s throw from the iconic Menin Gate memorial, our Information Centre is a great way for new visitors to the region to find out more about our work in Belgium, and for seasoned veterans to discover new sites they’ve not visited yet.
You’ll find the Information Centre at Menenstraat 33, Ieper, and is open until 9pm, so its very easy to include a visit if you’re attending the Last Post at the Menin Gate.
Our friendly staff are on hand and happy to help with any enquiries, we look forward to your visit.
Visit our Ieper Information Centre to discover more about the CWGC's work in Belgium, get some help with your research or just plan the next stop on your visit to our sites.Visit our Info Centre