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Rush to repair WWI headstones as centenary approaches
A century of wind and weather has worn the surfaces of the 12,000 headstones of Tyne Cot cemetery in Zonnebeke, rendering the names hard to read, writes Associated Press’s Don Melvin. Some gravestones are chipped or cracked and the stones are no longer perfectly aligned. Workers are using diamond drill bits to painstakingly re-engrave stones and make the names more legible and the regimental shields more distinct. It’s part of a grand effort to get the cemeteries of the British Commonwealth – Tyne Cot is the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world – in perfect condition for the crowds expected to visit during World War One centenary commemorations between 2014 and 2018. The works are being carried out to provide the most fitting memorial possible to such suffering, with pristine order serving as a counterpoint to the horror and chaos of the battlefield. About 2,000 headstones will be replaced with new ones, identical to the originals. Another 7,000 will be re-engraved. The rows of stones will be realigned into geometric perfection, the landscaping trimmed and renewed. Gravestones generally last about 90 years before the names are gradually erased by time. The 100th anniversary of the war comes just as living memory of what was then called the Great War has faded: this will be the first major anniversary for which no known soldiers survive. The Tyne Cot cemetery lies near Ypres, an ancient city in northwest Belgium that held a strategic position during World War One, standing in the way of Germany’s planned sweep into France from the north. In 2011, more than 300,000 people visited the cemetery, said Stephen Lodewyck of Westtoer, the West Flanders tourism office. During the centenary years, he said, that was expected to increase by 10 or 15%.