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Remembered Today:

Postwar clearance reburials


Peter Woodger

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Hi

If a body was found during the post armistice clearance and it was thought that there had not been a previous committal service then a service was held when the body was reburied. Services were not held if one was thought to have already occurred.

In some cemeteries the Burial trench had been dug by German POWs in POW Labour companies. I am guessing that the same men were used to backfill the trench. However if there was a committal service the Germans were made to leave the cemetery during the service. (Ref Norm Christie, Canadians on the Somme Page 61)

The POWs were Christians, probably still wearing their belt buckles saying “God with us”, from a Christian country that had signed the Armistice. Why can they dig the grave, backfill it and perhaps even help to lower the bodies in but must leave the cemetery whilst the Padre says a few words?

Peter

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Peter

Although I do not have any definative proof I suspect there may have been two reasons for the decision.

Firstly, the idea that there was no guarantee that the German PoWs would treat the bodies with the respect they were entitled to.

Secondly, to avoid the possibility of clashes between British soldiers who were exhuming and burying comrades and the men who may have killed them?

Interestingly German PoWs were allowed to defuse enemy ammunition found on the battlefield but not allied ammunition - in case they sabotaged it.

As I say I have not found the evidence although it may well be contained in the files held by the CWGC. Hopefully one day they will be available for public access as I am certain they will answer a lot of questions.

Regards

Ivor

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Ivor

As always a thought provoking reply. The full quote From Christie is as follows.

“The graves were filled and the chaplain read the burial service over the remains (if necessary). If German prisoner-of-war labour was used for digging the graves, the POWs were removed from the cemetery during the committal service”

I know that we must be very careful about micro analysing words that may not have been intended for such a process.

Is there a difference between the Burial Service and the Committal Service?

I thought the burial service was read before the grave was filled.

Is there any evidence that POW companies were used as grave diggers during the clearance process and if so were they attached to the British labour company that was responsible for finding and exhuming the bodies, transporting them to the cemetery and burying them?

If we consider a big concentration cemetery like Adanac there would have been trench digging, backfilling and service reading going on all the time so that it would not have been possible to use POWs at all.

If only the records were available!!!

Peter

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Peter

Like you I am not sure whether there is a difference between a Burial Service and a Committal Service.

I have always thought the Committal Service was the final service that took place where the body was being buried. Whereas a burialservice can be held in a church or other place of worship before the body is moved to the burial ground.

Perhaps we have someone on the Forum who has a better knowledge than us and can give us the corrct answer.

Restrictions on PoWs exhuming and burying the dead were lifted at the end of the war. I have a reference in July 1919 to German PoWs who were involved in battlefield clearance which included exhuming and burying German dead getting extra rations.

Another thought (if only we could confirm these things!) - I wonder if by removal from the cemetery it actually meant removal from the area that was currently marked out for burial rather than the whole cemetery?

Unfortunately the proof copy of the book arrived here yesterday so, at the moment, I will not have time to look through all my PoW references to see if I can be more specific. Even when I do I suspect most will do little more than tell us which Labour Group a company was attached to. I have not seen that many references to the specific work being carried out by British Labour Companies during 1919 let alone PoW Companies.

Ivor

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Ivor

There is nothing unfortunate about the proof copy of the book arriving, Looking forward to its publication.

Peter

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