From October 1914 to the autumn of 1918, Ypres (now Ieper) was at the centre of a salient held by Commonwealth (and for some months by French) forces.
From April 1915, it was bombarded and destroyed more completely than any other town of its size on the Western Front, but even so certain buildings remained distinguishable. The ruins of the cathedral and the cloth hall stood together in the middle of the city, part of the infantry barracks stood in an angle of the south walls and the prison, reservoir and water tower were together at the western gate.
Three cemeteries were made near the western gate: two between the prison and the reservoir, both now removed into the third, and the third on the north side of the prison. The third was called at first the "Cemetery North of the Prison," later "Ypres Reservoir North Cemetery, and now Ypres Reservoir Cemetery. This cemetery was begun in October 1915 and used by fighting units and field ambulances until after the Armistice, when it contained 1,099 graves.
The cemetery was later enlarged when graves were brought in from the battlefields of the salient and the following smaller burial grounds:-
YPRES RESERVOIR SOUTH CEMETERY, between the prison and the reservoir (also called "Broadley's Cemetery" and "Prison Cemetery No.1"). It was used from October 1914 to October 1915, and contained the graves of 18 soldiers from the United Kingdom.
YPRES RESERVOIR MIDDLE CEMETERY, immediately North of the last named (also called "Prison Cemetery No.2" and "Middle Prison Cemetery"). It was used in August and September 1915, and rarely afterwards. It contained the graves of 107 soldiers from the United Kingdom (41 of whom belonged to the 6th King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry) and one Belgian soldier.
The CEMETERY at the INFANTRY BARRACKS (also called "the Esplanade"). It was used from April 1915 to July 1916 and contained the graves of 14 soldiers from the United Kingdom, ten of whom belonged to the 6th Siege Battery, R.G.A. In Plot V, Row AA, are the graves of 16 officers and men of the 6th Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, who were billeted in the vaults of the cathedral and killed on 12 August 1915 by shelling from the "Ypres Express" firing from Houthulst Forest. The survivors were rescued by the 11th King's Liverpools, but these bodies were not recovered until after the Armistice.
There are now 2,613 Commonwealth servicemen of the First World War buried or commemorated in the cemetery. 1,034 of the burials are unidentified. The cemetery was designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield.