Bedford House is a section in the Ypres (pronounced ipr) Reservoir Cemetery, a Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) burial ground for fallen soldiers of the British Indian Army - among many other Allied nations - that served in the First World War. The cemetery is located in the Ypres Salient, which is the area around Ypres in Belgium which was the scene of some of the biggest battles of the Great War. The picturesque town of Ypres is on the border between Belgium and France. The countryside is very rural - flat as a pancake - and is ideal terrain for trench warfare. The locals still uncover unexploded bombs and spent bullets. There is a local bar at the entrance of the cemetery that has hundreds of mementos from World War One.
Anup Misra visited the place and reported that the cemetery is divided into two parts, each identified by a plaque. The setting is quite beautiful and British tourists come here on the weekends to spot their great-grand-fathers and other family members. The cemetery is maintained by the Commonwealth War Commission and they have annual get-togethers to commemorate the war. Surprisingly, people from both sides sides - Axis (Central Powers) and Allies (Entente Powers) - attend. When we were there, we bumped into a dozen or so English motorcyclists. Very nice folks! There are a couple of Indian soldiers listed in the directory, but I could not find the headstones. Bedford House was hard to find, so we went back into town and asked for directions again. This area is littered with memorials and thus one has to be specific in what they are looking for. We finally tracked it down by asking a local gardener who tended that same cemetery. Several thousand Indian soldiers, serving under the British Indian Army, also died at the Ypres Salient. Unfortunately, only a dozen or so Indian graves were found. This could mean that many went missing, unrecognized or were mis-titled (unknown soldier). The sad part is that that the Indian section, identified by the typical Indian-style cenotaph (chhatri), is located at the furthest corner of the cemetery. Racism of the times? That particular section is also not well looked after.
In military parlance, a salient is a battlefield feature that projects into enemy territory. Therefore, the salient is surrounded by the enemy on three sides, making the troops occupying the salient vulnerable. The enemy's line facing a salient is referred to as a re-entrant (an angle pointing inwards). A deep salient is vulnerable to being 'pinched out' across the base, forming a pocket, in which the defenders of the salient become isolated. The Ypres Salient was formed by British, French, Canadian and Belgian defensive efforts against German incursion during the 1914 'Race to the Sea', culminating in the Battle of the Yser and the First Battle of Ypres. These battles saved the Ypres Salient and the corner of Belgium around Veurne from occupation, but also led to the beginning of trench warfare in the salient as both sides 'dug in' around the line. The area of the salient is mostly flat, with few rises or hills. Those that did exist became the focus for the 1915 Second Battle of Ypres, which saw the first use of mustard gas and the almost total destruction and evacuation of Ypres, and the 1917 Third Battle of Ypres at Passchendaele. After the third battle, the Ypres Salient was left relatively quiet until the 1918 Spring Offensive by Germany threatened to overwhelm the entire area. This offensive was stopped at the point, the Allies were closest to being forced to abandon the salient. By August 1918, the Hundred Days Offensive pushed the German forces out of the salient entirely and they did not return. World War I ended on 11 November 1918 and the 1919 Treaty of Versailles officially ended the war.
Images © Anup Misra