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Photographer: Chris Knowles

Maple Copse Cemetery

Gazetteer No. G0740


Address Zillebeke, West-Vlaanderen Belgium


Maple Copse is the name used by the army for a small grove about 900 metres east of Zillebeke village, just west of Sanctuary Wood Cemetery. The site was used by Advanced Dressing Stations and graves were established here before and after the Battle of Mount Sorrel in 1916. However, many graves were destroyed again at a later stage and only a small number of graves were recovered after the Armistice.

The cemetery is situated in a low-lying part north of a poplar wood and is enclosed by a wide ditch. On account of its low location and the water surrounding the field, the cemetery has the character of an island. Apart from that, its isolated location is emphasized by the rounded corners with an extra undulation on the northeast side of the terrain.

The design of the entrance to the cemetery is characterized by a bridge and a gatehouse with amazingly refined details. The building is a combination of an entrance building, a shelter and a storage space. On the outward-facing side it has the character of a small triumphal arch, one of Lutyens’ favourite themes. On the side of the cemetery, the central passage opens up by means of two round columns and two side porches. The use of the columns assigns a far lighter character to the building on this side, evoking notions of the Italian Renaissance. The building is raised in grey-brown rubble with three frames: the plinth, the edge of the roof and a cordon halfway.

The differences in height in the field proper are negligible, but as the road has a more elevated position, the visitor is offered a fine view of the cemetery from the entrance. A low wall of natural stone surrounding the cemetery is not above but below ground level. Such a wall, called a ha-ha, was often used in English landscape architecture to keep cattle outside the grounds of a stately home without obstructing the view from the house itself. Incidentally, the cemetery as it is today was not finished until a relatively late stage. In Sidney C. Hurst’s book The Silent Cities, dating from 1929, all that is available is a perspective drawing. This shows that originally a low wall had been planned around the cemetery. It is possible that a ditch was proposed once the designers realized that the low-lying terrain needed to be drained, and that the original wall was dropped, as it were, resulting in this attractive ha-ha.

The greenery of the cemetery consists of four groups of three maples each on the corners of the field. The maple leaf being the symbol of Canada, the maples were planted because of the large number of Canadian soldiers who were killed in the vicinity. There are four conifers in the central area and outside the cemetery, in front of the entrance, there is a triangular area with eight Lombardy poplars.

Many graves having disappeared, the order of the cemetery is unusual. Some of the original graves have been rediscovered in rather arbitrary places and the majority of them face west. Special memorials have been established for the destroyed graves in six locations, two of which have seats in the form of a bench on a stone plateau. Some of these headstones face east and some face west. The Cross of Sacrifice is on the west side; in conjunction with the entrance building, it determines the central axis of the cemetery and is visible through the gate of the entrance building. (Geurst, 2010, p.357-8)


Geurst, J. (2010) Cemeteries of the Great War by Sir Edwin Lutyens. Rotterdam: 010 Publishers.

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Imperial War Graves Commission