Getting to know the unknown soldier

Discussion in 'Military History and Militaria' started by msr, Apr 11, 2006.

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  1. msr

    msr LE

    It is a melancholy footnote to history that even now, according to the Ministry of Defence, the bodies of soldiers who fought in the First World War are still being found. One such instance occurred last week when the remains of a soldier thought to be from the York and Lancaster regiment turned up in the grounds of a town hall in northern France. "Work was being carried out in the gardens when the body was discovered," explains Chris Farrell of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in France. "The gendarmerie was contacted and once it was verified that the body was not a civilian, the remains were recovered and the body was sent to us."

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,,1751284,00.html

    msr
     
  2. Sobering thought on morbid maths.....

    Battle of the Somme 130k British dead. 72k have no know grave and are on the Thiepval memorial. So around 60k are known and in graves on the Somme Battlefields. I don't know eactly how many graves in the Somma area are "known unto god" but, looking at the proportion of known to unknown in the large cemetaries, its less than half.

    So there are probably 30-40k dead from the Somme alone whose bodies have never been found at all, about a quarter to one third, from the largets and most bloody single campaign. This is in about 12% of the British Empire war dead. If those proportions are applied across the other battlefields there would be around 300-400k british Empire dead who have no grave - known or unknown.

    Thats probably an over estimate as the men that died of sickness in Africa and Mesopotamia where more likely to have had a proper burial than those killing in the intense battles in Flanders and France. The Somme is one of four intensive very large scale battles. The others of the same scale are Arras 1917 Ypres 1917 The Kaiserschlacht 1918 (where a high proportion of British dead would be left in German hands) and the last 100 days. The Somme is bigger than any of these singly, but we have ignored Loos and the first two battles of Ypres. So a low estimate of the numbers of British Empire dead bodies still in French or Belgian soil might be 120k A vwery full national stadium, or two old Traffords or alsmost everyone in Middlesborough.
     
  3. The Menin Gate at Ypres lists 55,000 names of British Empire soldiers "missing in action". The military cemetaries around that area tend to be quite small and most graves have names. I'd guess that the majority of those 55,000 men have no graves and are still where they fell, which supports your argument that your estimate is a conservative one.

    I don't suppose it matters to the individuals concerned whether they had graves or not. But what struck me was the implication for their families, spending their whole lives not knowing whether Dad/husband/son etc might not miraculously have survived and walk through the door. Those families must really have suffered.
     
  4. There are 54-55,000 names on the Menin Gate, who hdied with no known grave before 17 Aug 1917 and a further 34,000 on the rear wall of Tyne Cot Cemetary, who died after that date with no klnown grave.

    The size of the cemetaries vary as does the proportion of named to unknown dead. The proportion of unknown dead depends on how the cemetary was formed and the nature of the fighting.

    There are 11,900+ buried in the largest cemetary Tyne Cot, which ceoncentrated many battlefield burials from the sloppes opf Passcendaele ridge. Of these over 8,000 have no nknown grave, This is a reflection of horrific nature of the fighting in 3rd Ypres and the likely state of the bodies found after the battle.

    The second largets cemetary is Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, which contains just over 10,000 named dead, and as far as I can see, no unkonwn. Thats because it was sited among the military hospittals amd someonme who got that far back would be known.

    Your point about the impact on a family is well made. I was told that my great grand mother never locked the back door of the house just in case her eldest son Kipps might came home, even though he was killed on 19 September 1914.
     
  5. I am not sure this is a completely new story as I heard it a few months ago in Belgium, unless its another three near Polygon Wood. The These chaps do a lot of work. Diggers do a very fine job, as do the CWGC.