England’s royal family traveled to Belgium Monday to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the battle of Passchendaele, or “The Battle of Mud,” which caused more than 500,000 casualties for the Allied and Central powers.
William and Kate, the duke and duchess of Cambridge, accompanied Prime Minister Theresa May to Tyne Cot cemetery near Ypres in Belgium. Tyne Cot is the largest British cemetery in the world, holding the remains of 11,954 Commonwealth soldiers from the three battles of Ypres, of which Passchendaele was the last, The BBC reported Monday.
Prince William stood with Belgium’s King Philippe during a ceremony honoring the dead.
“Members of our families; our regiments; our nations; all sacrificed everything for the lives we live today,” he said. “During the First World War Britain and Belgium stood shoulder to shoulder. One hundred years on, we still stand together, gathering as so many do every night, in remembrance of that sacrifice.”
The Allied offensive at Passchendaele began July 31, 1917, and involved British Commonwealth forces. As was typical in WWI, the offensive exacted a terrible cost and yielded little gain, with only the Canadian component making meaningful progress during the months-long engagement.
Terrible fighting conditions earned Passchendaele the moniker “The Battle of Mud.” Ignoring the conditions, General Sir Douglas Haig ordered a relentless offensive, which earned the Allies only five miles after more than 100 days of fighting. As the battle drew on, heavy shelling and the hardest rains for 30 years turned the battlefield into a treacherous moonscape that drowned both men and horses.
Poet Siegfried Sassoon summarized the killing in two sentences: “I died in hell. They called it Passchendaele.”
Following the battle, tens of thousands of soldiers were simply unaccounted for, and it’s not uncommon to find human remains around the battlefield to this day. To honor the missing, Ypres’ Menin Gate is inscribed with the names of more than 50,000 missing soldiers.
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