Etaples is a town about 27 kilometres south of Boulogne. The Military Cemetery is to the north of the town, on the west side of the road to Boulogne.
During the First World War, the area around the small fishing port of Etaples was the scene of immense concentrations of Commonwealth reinforcement camps and hospitals. It was remote from attack, except from aircraft, and accessible by railway from both the northern or the southern battlefields. At its peak, 100,000 troops were housed there with Commonwealth army training and reinforcement camps and an extensive complex of hospitals.
In 1917, 100,000 troops were camped among the sand dunes and the hospitals, which included eleven general, one stationary, four Red Cross hospitals and a convalescent depot, could deal with 22,000 wounded or sick. In September 1919, 10 months after the Armistice, three hospitals and the Q.M.A.A.C. convalescent depot remained.
The cemetery is the final resting place of 20 women, including nurses, army auxiliaries and civilian volunteers of the YMCA and Scottish Church Huts organisations. They were killed in air raids or by disease.
By the latter part of the war, more than 2,500 women were serving at the Étaples base. Hailing from many parts of the British Empire as well as France and America, they included ambulance drivers, nurses, members of the Voluntary Aid Detachment and those employed by the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps as bakers, clerks, telephonists and gardeners.
In its early years, the cemetery was visible as the train from Boulogne to Paris passed close by. Sir Fabian Ware, the founder of the Imperial War Graves Commission, ensured that trains would linger for a minute or so to allow passengers a glimpse.
Hospitals were stationed again at Etaples during the Second World War. The cemetery was used for burials from January 1940 until the evacuation at the end of May 1940. After the war, a number of graves were brought into the cemetery from other French burial grounds. Of the 119 Second World War burials, 38 are unidentified.
Etaples Military Cemetery also contains 662 Non Commonwealth burials, mainly German, including six unidentifed. There are also now five Non World War service burials here.
The cemetery was unveiled on 14 May 1922, by King George V and General Douglas Haig.
Just about every AIF soldier in France passed through the personnel depot at some point, and many through the medical evacuation chain. The "Bull Ring" training system was well known to most diggers in the AIF. Some soldiers noted while undergoing training the never ending procession of casualties and new graves leaving them in no doubt what was waiting further up the line.
Notable burials include Major Douglas Reynolds, a recipient of the Victoria Cross, and William Robert Aufrère Dawson, who was awarded the Distinguished Service Order on four occasions.
Etaples Military Cemetery was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens as Principal Architect and Major George Hartley Goldsmith as Assistant Architect. The cemetery features a Stone of Remembrance and the Cross of Sacrifice.