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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Known or Believed to be buried in this Cemetery


Peter Woodger
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Hi

How much evidence was needed for a memorial stone inscribed Believed or Known to be buried in this cemetery.

Let me give 2 examples.

An Australian of the 9th Battalion was buried under a cross in Pozieres Cemetery. In 1921 his name was taken off the cross and the name of another Australian of the same serial number but the 14th Battalion was substituted. After an investigation the mistake was corrected and the cross was again named for the 9th Battalion man. The IWGC now erected a memorial cross, to the 14th Division man, which said “Believed to be buried in this Cemetery but actual grave not known”. The justification for this was that the man was known to have been buried in the area 57D X 9b 8 8 which area had been concentrated to Pozieres with many unknowns so there was a good chance that he was buried somewhere in Pozieres. In July 1927 a body of an unknown soldier was exhumed from 57D R 34 d 9 6 and on the body was found 2 discs belonging to the 14th Battalion man.

4 men were buried under a single cross just north of the Ancre river. When the grave was exhumed only one body could be found. That body is buried in Ancre British Cemetery as an unknown and the 4 men have Memorial stones that say “Known to be buried in this cemetery”. This infers that someone went back to the grave site and found the other 3 bodies, took them to Ancre and buried them but then forgot where!

Were there any rules?

Peter

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An interesting post, which opens up the question about burials. I always thought that known to be buried meant that there had been a grave, but its exact position was lost - either by the passage of time or by damage - such as shell fire. Your post has made me question this belief, there must be other justifications. I suppose that could a soldier stating that a comrade was buried in a certain place, but when it came to post war record and cemetery construction, that a grave marker did not exist.

I have also been thinking about the case of the cross stating that 4 men were buried there, but only one body was recovered. We perhaps do not know the circumstances of the burial, but being a battlefield it could have been shellfire. This could have caused massive trauma to the bodies - hence the case for a multiple burial, but how do we know actaully what was buried? Perhaps, at the time of disinterment, that the remains, which may have possibly been soft tissue etc may have decomposed, hence only one body being able to be identified. Another hyposthesis, could be that there may have been the remains of more than one man, but these may have just been fragments of a body, which when examined may have appeared to be just one body.

I know that it is not a nice subject to discuss, but battle produces circumstances such as these.

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I think the over riding rule was for the burial parties to do the best they could. Only people with experience of collecting, burying and reburying remains of men who had been killed in a war dominated by artillery, some of the remains 2 years old or more, would be qualified to criticise the work done.

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Interesting question.

My great uncle Benjamin is a "believed/known" burial at Hannescamps. The other man from his artillery brigade killed the same day is also buried there but in a known grave. When I visited, I sort of expected to find an "unknown" next to the known grave who I could asume was Ben. But no such luck, none of the fifteen or so unknowns are really anywhere near the known one. I assume they just him lost him somewhere in there.

John

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Hi

I can assure Truthergw that there was no criticism of the burial party, I had carefully chosen two examples where the “change” was an administrative one long after the burial party had done its work.

We assume that the man who is Believed or Known is one of the unknowns in the cemetery but this is not always so. At Heilly Station there are more men Known to be buried than there are Unknown headstones.

Thinking how difficult it would be to get an Unknown changed today I thought that the Admin was somewhat loose in the past and wondered if anyone had ever seen the rules?

Peter

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Peter

Have you read Peter Hodgkinson' s "Clearing the Dead" - Journal of the Centre for First World War Studies, 3:1 (2007), 33-60. Publisher: Centre for First World War Studies, University of Birmingham. ISSN 1745-8692?

Whilst it does not answer your question completely there are some interesting aspects.

Ivor

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Hi

Thank you for that reference Ivor I shall seek a copy.

Returning to the 4 under 1 cross, if it was a collection of part remains then the cross would have been for a collective grave and the remains would have been treated as a collective grave in the concentration cemetery. I did not point out that the exhumation took place in 1919 so we do not have the “Fog of War” effect.

Peter

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