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Photographer: Chris Knowles

Perth Cemetery (China Wall)

Gazetteer No. G0757


Address Zillebeke, West-Vlaanderen Belgium


The cemetery lies north of Zillebeke village, just outside the built-up area, on fairly level terrain. The original cemetery was constructed by French troops in November 1914 and taken over by the British in June 1917. The name ‘China Wall’ refers to a so-called ‘communication trench’ that was known as the Great Wall of China. These trenches were connections between the trenches in the frontline and those behind. The cemetery was used for frontline casualties until October 1917, and there were 130 graves. After that time it was not used again until after the Armistice, when graves from the battlefield and from other, smaller cemeteries were transferred here. Among the casualties were relatively many soldiers who had been executed for insubordination. The ground has an elongated, rectangular shape with two exceptions on the shorter end sides. There is a triangular piece of ground on the street side, which adjusts the diagonal direction of the road. Here 108 special memorials have been placed in an unusual layout. The original cemetery of the French, which is broader than the extension, lies at the far end of the ground. The shelter, which is combined with a storage space, is similar to a design found in several other cemeteries, such as Bapaume Post Military Cemetery, Bac-du-Sud British Cemetery and Aubers Ridge Military Cemetery, designed by Holden and Cowlishaw. Here the buildings must have been added at a later stage, as they do not feature on the IWGC drawings and on the photographs in the book The Silent Cities, dating from 1929, which documents all cemeteries. The shelter is also akin to the two half shelters in Larch Wood Cemetery, south of Zillebeke. Typical of Lutyens are the arch above the alcove, the pilasters in the side façade, and the alternating setbacks in the roof. Just as is the case with the shelter, the entrance and the wall surrounding the cemetery are made of a combination of red brick and whitestone. At the entrance, the wall curves inward creating a small forecourt area and, in a quarter-circle form, it links up with the change in direction in relation to the road. In line with Lutyens’ wishes, the War Stone has been placed on the (north)east side next to the original cemetery, and the Cross of Sacrifice is right in front of the entrance so that it looks as if the direct visibility line to the Cross of Sacrifice is deliberately blocked. The new graves face north-east, with the exception of the graves on both sides of the tree-lined avenue between the entrance and the War Stone. The special memorials, too, fall outside the scope of this structure and have been laid out, for example, in the form of an extended circle on the side of the road. The cemetery has two longitudinal central axes and a short lateral axis from the entrance to the shelter. The principal axis runs from the forecourt with the special memorials to the original cemetery, where the ground ends in a bend. A second axis, the entrance axis, runs parallel from the entrance to the War Stone. As a parallel axis has been introduced on one side of the central axis, the layout recalls a green church with one aisle. The arrangement of the trees strengthens the layout of the cemetery. The ‘main nave’ is bounded by four Lombardy poplars at the end. The aisle consists of an uninterrupted avenue of willows. The special memorials next to the entrance are surrounded by shrubs. Two planters have been incorporated in the wall on either side of the entrance. (Geurst, 2010, pp.382-4)


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

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Imperial War Graves Commission