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Date of death or burial?


squirrel

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In Larch Wood (Railway Cutting) Cemetery there is an unkown Officer of the London Irish Rifles buried and on his headstone it has a date in June 1917. Is this the date of him being found, buried or is it the date of his death? If the latter then surely he would have been identified?

I have checked the battalion war diaries and there are no Officer or O/R casualties mentioned in April, May, June or July. Perhaps they were listed elsewhere?

He is buried next to two identified LIR Riflemen with dates of death in April 1917.

Any help on where to start looking for further information greatly appreciated.

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Squirrel

A couple of cases I,ve looked at concerning unknown officers also have had dates

on the headstones.

As with your example I was unable to find men who were missing at that approximate time.

In another case I found two unidentified graves for officers from a particular battalion but

apparently only one is missing.

We can only guess as to the reasons for these errors but I would suggest that they are not rare.

It,s possible that within his Burial Return there is information to explain the use of this date.

Unfortunately it appears that there is a two month back log at the commission so don,t expect a

reply in a hurry.

All the best in your search.

Mick

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Tony

I would suggest an email to CWGC asking the specific questions you need answers to.

In my (limited) experience I have found they "often" have additional information of great use but unless you ask the right question they don't volunteer it. One example was regarding a man who, by his date of death, had been given a field burial & later moved to a concentration cemetery. When I asked CWGC when he was exhumed and if they had any other information they replied only with the most likely date his body was found and the date of his re-burial. When I emailed back with further specific questions such as where was he found (map ref), how was he identified etc they gave me all the info I needed.

Andy

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Some years ago I spotted two graves in Perth Cemetery - two unknown officers of the Suffolk regiment, with a date of death (IIRC) of early October 1915.

To cut a long story short, I was able to identify them (Maj C H Turner and 2/Lt J J Thill); they'd actually died in a particularly nasty little action (where Lt Hallowes of the Middlesex won a VC), but their bodies had been recovered a couple of weeks later.

The date on the graves was the date of burial, not the date of death. My suggestion would be to look at Officers Died for officers missing near that date, then check CWGC to see which ones are 'known' and which aren't.

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Thanks chaps - much appreciated. Am in touch with the regimental museum as well so that should hopefully give me other options as well. In theory, whoever this Officer is should be on the Menin Gate but he may be on the Tyne Cot memorial so the rank should bring it down to a smaller number of possibilities.

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Have checked the London Irish casualties on the Menin Gate and Tyne Cot memorial - from CWGC listings.

There are no LIR Officers listed on the Menin Gate.

There are two on the Tyne Cot memorial with dates from October 1917 one of whom was attached from the Royal Fusiliers.

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The mystery thickens.........................have checked SDGW.

There were no LIR Officer casualties reported in the area who might have been buried at Larch Wood during April, May, June 1917 - the battalion was at Arras in April 1917.

Which raises another question - the two Riflemen next to him are both shown as kia in April 1917 - their dates of death are less than a week before the battalion was at Arras.

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Thanks Chris - that was my next thought as well. Must chase up the museum curator.

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  • 3 months later...

I got that one wrong - the battalion was in and out of the front line in the Hill 60, the Bluff and Spoil Bank areas at this time - Jan to May 1917 - then in training for the attack on the Messines Ridge in June. There are no Officer casualties noted by name in the war diary; very few O/R casualties noted also.

Received this from CWGC :

"According to our records, the Unknown Officer of the 18th Bn. London Regiment who is buried in grave 4.A.19. was previously buried in Wervicq Communal Cemetery German Extension (trench map ref 28.Q.25.a.5.1.) in German grave 1884. The date shown on his headstone came from the original German grave marker. Regrettably, we have no further details."

This must mean that he was a POW and died 2/6/17.

Any further thoughts for following this up?

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squirrel: I agree with your basic logic. However, if the Germans used the date of burial, it would seem as if he was already dead in the German lines, with no known date of death, ie perhaps not "freshly" dead. It would need someone with access to trench maps at that time or War Diaries to see whether any raids or attacks were mounted around the end of June in which at least one officer had been reported Killed or Missing...

It is still possible of course, for him to have been a PoW and presumably wounded, dying on or before 2nd July 1917.

I don't know what German PoW or hospital facilities were in the Wervicq area, maybe other Pals can add their thoughts?

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Thanks Kevin,

all sorts of possibilities for the date as you say. Date found, date killed, date died, date buried etc. and, as Chris has pointed out, he could have been serving with or attached to another battalion.

However, the 18th Londons War Diaries mention no Officers killed for the first 6 months of 1917; casualties of O/R's are rarely mentioned. I find this unusual as they were in and out of the front line and carried out a number of raids during this time.

Also, IIRC, if he died somewhere in the Salient before August 1917 he should be named on the Menin Gate and there are no 18th Londons Officers on the Menin Gate. There are two at Tyne Cot but with dates in October 1917.

Any other suggestions welcomed as you say.

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I wonder if the CWGC records state whether, when exhumed, this man was confirmed by them as an officer of the 18th Londons, or whether he was so identified on the basis of the German inscription on his original grave marker. Point being that it would be odd if the Germans were able to identify him by unit, but not determine his rank or identify him by name. If 'freshly killed' following a raid or something similar, the Germans would generally have asked prisoners (assuming there were some) to identify him - which would give at least his surname, rank and unit to inscribe on his grave marker. Any permutation of circumstances is possible on a battlefield, but this sounds like a man found dead, on his own, with nothing on him to identify him by name or specific rank, so it's possible that the German identification of him as an officer of the 18th Londons could be 50% or even 100% wrong. Perhaps more information helpful in this case will emerge when the German 'Totenlisten' notified to the ICRC in Geneva are eventually digitised.

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The LIR took part in a full battalion trench raid at Verbrandenmoelen on 7th April 1917, suffering very heavy losses. I wonder if this was one of the casualties and the date is indeed a date of burial rather than death?

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Points noted Siege Gunner - endless possibilities.

Paul - I wondered about this as well. Especially as the two Riflemen of the 18th Londons buried next to him have April 4th and April 7th dates of death on their headstones. I wonder if they were originally buried in the German cemetery also?

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