Rendez-vous at Etaples Military Cemetery
Étaples War Cemetery, the largest of its kind in France, overlooks the Canche Estuary. The six-hectare site is the last resting place for some 11,500 soldiers who came to Europe from throughout the British Commonwealth to fight in the Great War and who died as a result of their wounds or of disease.
It was here in 1915, on this narrow strip of land behind the fishing port, that the British Army set up what was to become the largest field hospital complex of its time. At its height the site comprised more than a dozen hospitals and over 20,000 beds. The hospitals were specialist units and included one which treated infectious diseases, another which cared exclusively for German prisoners working in the British bases, yet another which was manned entirely by volunteers, and so on. In 1917 the field hospital received 40,000 wounded and sick soldiers every month. They were brought to Étaples on a dozen ambulance trains which ran everyday.
British command identified the land north of Étaples, with its rail links and road to Boulogne, as being the ideal location for setting up what was to be the largest British Army training camp outside Great Britain.
Coming from all parts of the Commonwealth, fresh soldiers were taken to the camp as soon as they landed to undergo final training before being sent to the Western Front in Flanders, Artois and the Somme. The poet Wilfred Owen described the camp as the 'bull ring' because of the brutality of the instructors and the harsh conditions that reigned there. Tensions between the camp authorities and the soldiers eventually led to the brief mutiny of 9th September 1917.