Foreign fields: War dead and repatriation

Gents I found the below in The Independant, just though it may be of general interest to the Membership.

Foreign fields: War dead and repatriation

First World War, 1914-1918

673,375 killed or missing, 1,643,469 wounded

Up to 1915, repatriation of bodies from the front was allowed if the family could afford it; the few brought back included the octogenarian Victorian commander Field Marshal Frederick Roberts. But in April the French Marshal Joseph Joffre banned repatriation, on grounds of hygiene and equality between rich and poor dead. Eventually the repatriation of bodies was banned by all nations: the scale of losses was too high. The decision was highly unpopular, leaving families and friends without a focus for their grief. For this reason there is a First World War memorial in almost every town and village in the UK.

The initial patriotism and unity over the war became known as "the Spirit of 1914". As casualties grew to unimagined levels, support steadily dwindled.

Second World War, 1939-1945

382,700 killed, 475,000 wounded

The ban on the repatriation of bodies remained and was not lifted until the 1950s, after the Korean War. Even now, if remains from the Second World War are discovered there is no provision to repatriate them at public expense. Two relatives may attend a funeral or commemorative service overseas at the nearest Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery. Evacuation and rationing was said to have had a greater impact on public support for the war than the number of military deaths.

Falklands War, 1982

258 killed, 777 wounded

Families of those killed were given the choice of having the remains brought back to the UK or buried in a military cemetery on the islands. Most chose to have the bodies repatriated. The Sir Bedivere made two voyages back to Britain, carrying 60 and then a further 65 bodies. A wreath was thrown overboard for the 174 men who died at sea. 16 bodies were interred on the island after a memorial service. Public support for the war wavered, particularly after the sinking of HMS Coventry with the loss of 19 lives, but support for the troops remained constant.

Afghanistan War, 2001 - ongoing

280 killed, 1,062 wounded

The practice of coffins being driven through Wootton Bassett came about by chance, due to the closure of a motorway flyover between RAF Lyneham and Oxford's John Radcliffe Hospital, where they are taken to the coroner. The funeral cortege had to pass through the town. So many people came to pay respects that it has become customary to take the coffins on this route.


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