Étaples was the scene of much Allied activity during World War I due to its safety from attack by enemy land forces and the existence of railway connections with both the northern and southern battlefields. The town was home to 16 hospitals and a convalescent depot, in addition to a number of reinforcement camps for Commonwealth soldiers and general barracks for the French Army. Of more than 11,500 soldiers interred in Étaples Military Cemetery, over 10,000 of these men were casualties of World War I who died in Étaples or the surrounding area.
The abundance of military infrastructure in Étaples gave the town a capacity of around 100,000 troops in World War I and made the area a serious target for German aerial bombing raids, from which the town suffered heavily. The combination of withstanding these attacks and giving over their homes to the war effort led to Étaples being awarded the Croix de Guerre in 1920.
The Second World War once again saw Allied hospitals stationed in Étaples, and with them the reopening of the cemetery to cope with the casualties of another war. 119 men were buried in Étaples Military Cemetery in World War II, this low number attributable to the fact that the hospitals were only in place from January 1940 until the British withdrawal from the Continent in May of the same year.
Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, Étaples Military Cemetery is the largest CWGC cemetery in France, and contains the remains of soldiers from the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India and Germany. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has only published the number of Commonwealth and German dead buried in Étaples, although its records for the cemetery note that it contains 'a few war graves of other nationalities'.
In total, the cemetery contains 10,792 Commonwealth burials of which only 73 are unidentified. There are also 658 German burials in the cemetery.