Sanctuary Wood Cemetery lies on a hillside in Ypres, Belgium, looking down over forest and fields that were the site of bloody battle during World War I. The site was named by British troops, who took shelter in the area in November 1914.
The cemetery is laid out in the form of a fan against the hills. Walking between the crosses, the destruction of human lives of WW1 becomes all too clear. The natural stone walls are low, which means that the crosses can be seen from a great distance.
In 1916, the area had three British cemeteries. All of them were destroyed during the Battle of Mount Sorrel, which took place between June 2 and June 13, 1916. After the war ended, one of those cemeteries, which held 137 graves, were discovered and became the what is now Sanctuary Wood Cemetery. Just down the road, the Sanctuary Wood Museum commemorates the fighting that took place in the region.
Nearly 2,000 soldiers are buried or are commemorated on the cemetery’s grounds, These are 1,735 men from the United Kingdom, 145 Canadians, 88 Australians, 18 New Zealanders, three South Africans, and one German. Of the remains held in the cemetery, 1,353 remain unidentified. Memorials have been placed for those whose graves could not be found at the destroyed cemeteries. Many of the gravestones in Sanctuary Wood read “buried near this spot.”
At the entrance to Sanctuary Wood is a Celtic cross dedicated to Second Lieutenant Thomas Keith Hedley Rae, a soldier who died during an attack by the Germans in the area of Het Hoog. His body was never recovered, but in 1921, Rae’s family erected a memorial near the site of his death. In 1966, the Celtic cross was moved to Sanctuary Wood.