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When are found bone fragments considered "eligible" for burial


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Does anybody know what the officials in France and Belgium and/or the war grave commissions do with found bone fragments? Is there a certain quantity of fragments required in order to bury a human being as such? So to speak soandso many % makes it a corpse?

What do the officials (police, ONAC etc) do with bone fragments handed over to them?

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I imagine that one problem may be determining if it comes from a casualty of the war (and indeed which war - there are places in France that saw fighting in 1870/1, 1914/18 and 1940 and possibly 44)

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I am strictly refering to fragments from killed in the Great War, to stay in the boundaries of this forum.

Yes but how does one know that this is where they came from? Some one finds say a bone on the Somme where there was fighting in the Franco Prussian War in all years of the Great War and in 1940. Probability is that it comes from the Great war but it might well come from before or after and there is an outside chance that it has nothing to do with any of them

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I guess you mean identifiable bone fragments - an awful lot of mammalian bones look very similar! I assume that you are also thinking of bone fragments found in an excavation of some kind - exposed bone will weather very quickly: I have been studying on an informal basis the erosion rate of a probably modern (i.e., 20th century) skeleton exposed in a cutting near here. After 10 years of gradual erosion of the grave all the bones had progressively fallen free and very quickly eroded to nowt.

That doesn't exactly answer your question, I know, but it follows on from what Centurion says: how does one even know what conflict exposed and recognisably human bones might have belonged to; and when they are fragmented and weathered, how can one tell that they are human?

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Does anybody know what the officials in France and Belgium and/or the war grave commissions do with found bone fragments? Is there a certain quantity of fragments required in order to bury a human being as such? So to speak soandso many % makes it a corpse?

What do the officials (police, ONAC etc) do with bone fragments handed over to them?

Initial investigations will be carried out by authorities in country.

For any finds handed over to the CWGC, as they are believed to be the remains of a Commonwealth soldier (based on location of finds, artefacts/ uniform and other discoveries made in area) the CWGC works with the appropriate national authority to identify and bury the remains.

For small finds I understand the CWGC has an advisory committee, made up of senior members and scientists, that considers if a find is sufficient to be buried as an individual in its own grave. Where remains are found which cannot be established as those of 1 casualty (named or unnamed) of a particular nationality - e.g. small quantities of bone fragment, which are human in origin and date from WW1, the remains will be interred by CWGC in communal grave in a military cemetery.

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I guess you mean identifiable bone fragments - an awful lot of mammalian bones look very similar! I assume that you are also thinking of bone fragments found in an excavation of some kind - exposed bone will weather very quickly: I have been studying on an informal basis the erosion rate of a probably modern (i.e., 20th century) skeleton exposed in a cutting near here. After 10 years of gradual erosion of the grave all the bones had progressively fallen free and very quickly eroded to nowt.

That doesn't exactly answer your question, I know, but it follows on from what Centurion says: how does one even know what conflict exposed and recognisably human bones might have belonged to; and when they are fragmented and weathered, how can one tell that they are human?

Indeed, for this reason anatomical skeletons were once professionally treated to preserve the bones (for more than 50 years skeletons made of resin have been used instead - the original was made in Germany and is still in production - he's called Stan) I think its moisture combined with exposure to the air does the damage, ossiaries are fairly dry places.

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To be more precise -just assume a German boot was found in a trench of the GW during WW1 exploration works in France and the boot contains the foot bones and parts of the shin . So please lets all come from that or similar recovery. But please assume that the officials agree it was from WW1. What is the threshold that lets the officials agree to re-bury this soul?

I think Kevin comes close except- where is the definition of what makes some bone fragments a valid re-burial in a war cemetery?

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Don't know, Egbert. My own experience, Luneberger Heide, 1971, on an archaeological site, finding a WWII trench with foot bones in a cut-off German military boot at the bottom of the trench, was that it was taken away to be dealt with by "the proper authorities" - but I cannot speak for WW1 sites or the CWG...

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A lot depends on context, Egbert. I believe that very small quantities of remains have been buried with full military honours in a named CWGC grave, having been recovered from the cockpit of a buried WW2 single-seater aircraft, when the identity of the missing pilot was known. In the case of your German boot, if no other related remains were found in the vicinity, I suspect that it might be concluded that the body minus the missing limb had been removed for burial elsewhere. Indeed, the soldier might even have been evacuated to the rear and have survived the loss of his lower leg.

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@Mick and Trajan- "....a lot depends on context...." that is true. My aim is to understand who makes a decision on what basis w/r to the quantity of found remains - whether they, the human remains, will be put to rest into an ossuaire, war cemetery or - "dumped".

To be more precise I would like to post a link to the matter that worries me (please see latest news, commentary section).

But on the other hand -I really would like to understand the official rule in general.

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I see what you mean Egbert... There should, in theory, be no problem in identifying a German boot from anything worn by a soldier of another nationality, but the reply you received does seem rather curt and dismissive. At the very least the remains, seemingly perfectly identifiable as WW1, require burial in an appropriate mass grave.

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Of course in the above scenario the soldier may have lost his boot and lower leg but made it to a CCS and survived to be buried in Germany!

He maybe be buried closer?

He may have lived minus his leg till 100?

All unlikely I accept.

TT

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  • 2 years later...

I was speaking with a local farmer outside Ieper about the annual thaw and recovery of UXO from the battlefields this past April...

 

"I suppose as you till the fields you hear the sound of something metallic, or something causes the machine to become jammed," I asked.

 

"Exactly," came the reply.

 

"What happens when the object is a large bone, like a femur or vertebrae," I responded.

 

"Normally, we would not know we even encountered one, as these objects are relatively soft to the machine."

 

I paused and thought for a moment...then said:

 

"Small wonder these fields are so fertile with so much natural fertilizer below."

 

He only gave me a humble nod, but I could see all at once, the respect, gratitude and sorrow in his eyes.

 

 

 

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On 10/18/2014 at 19:22, trenchtrotter said:

Of course in the above scenario the soldier may have lost his boot and lower leg but made it to a CCS and survived to be buried in Germany!

He maybe be buried closer?

He may have lived minus his leg till 100?

All unlikely I accept.

TT

 

    Not so- It was only in 1975-1976 that BLESMA (based near where I live in the east of London) reported that limbless ex-servicemen of the Great War had fallen below 4,000 in number. And I remember-with a deal of surprise-that, as a bookseller, there was an auction of the residual books of a Midlands bookseller of whom no-one of my contemporaries had ever heard- The chap was 107 and was an engineer in the West Midlands called up late in the war-he had lost a leg in 1918. At the time of the auction (1999?)  he was 107. I am sure some kindly Forum member will revivify my failing memories on who he was.

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  I remember visiting Ypres with a party of schoolteachers in 1984 and went to the farm where the benign but completely bonkers Belgian farmer was still selling off bits of stuff from a few yards of trench he excavated each year on his land-and which had been largely untouched  since 1918. (I admit to purchasing a barbed wire picket-no trouble in getting a seat on the Tube on the way back- nb-Now,fully support the no-takee-anything policy of the Forum and others. The picket is still at the bottom of my former front garden)

   Now, the bonkers Belgian farmer had a rule of thumb if he dug out human remains- depending on what colour the bones were-I think the correct way round was that yellowish meant a call to CWGC, while whitish meant a call to the German equivalent. As far as I (or anyone else) could understand, his rationale was that the bones were different colours due to the different diet of soldiers on each side. Yes, it was an exercise in complete gibberish-but it did raise one proper question-who do you call?

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13 hours ago, voltaire60 said:

 

   And who do they call?

 

On one occasion I dealt with (ok, in GB, not 'over there'!), they call the forensic pathologist, who then calls up the archaeologist involved, if there is one, who then says what he believes to be the case, which is then reported back to the police, and so the excavation proceeds... 

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A few weeks ago, I walked a few hours on a field in the Salient and found no less than 16 pieces of (human) bone, no larger than a few centimetre each. Do you really think a farmer should call the police for this and have their work stopped for an indefinite period of time for some unidentifiable bones? Do you really think the police would appreciate this? One of my relatives who is a farmer once called the police when they found bones of an arm. Nothing more was found and the police was very upset for being called for "nothing". I doubt they even took the bones with them...

These pieces are all in the top soil, which has been worked and turned around for a hundred years. It is of course another matter when more bones are found together in less touched layers.

 

It is not an easy discussion and it is very difficult to draw a clear line.

 

Jan

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11 minutes ago, trajan said:

 

On one occasion I dealt with (ok, in GB, not 'over there'!), they call the forensic pathologist, who then calls up the archaeologist involved, if there is one, who then says what he believes to be the case, which is then reported back to the police, and so the excavation proceeds... 

 

   Exactly so-  My first experience of this was working on a building site in Bristol as a student (of History,not Archaeology) in 1973- on the site of a monastic graveyard of the Middle Ages. Fascinating stuff-but even the police/coroner said that odd bones shoudl be collected in one place and a call once every other month would suffice-If work were suspended every time a human bone was unearthed until the Coroner rolled up, the project would never get finished.

   The question here may involve different attitudes- the ossuaire at Verdun suggests that the French attitude is to preserve and stack.

   But what happens to British or Germain remains that are bits??  I simply do not know- Where are they kept and by whom??  Who decides if a bone if German or British-OK, battlefield history comes into play. But just where do the bits and pieces go? The ossuaire at Verdun-plus 3000,000 odd British unaccounted suggests that plenty of bone is ploughed up each year along the British sectors of the Western Front..

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17 minutes ago, voltaire60 said:

... My first experience of this was working on a building site in Bristol as a student (of History,not Archaeology) in 1973- on the site of a monastic graveyard of the Middle Ages. ...

 

 

In which case we have met as I was active in Bristol in 1973 but not on the Greyfriars(?) site...!!! My comment above relates to my work at Sea Mills...:thumbsup:

 

That aside, I don't know what advice is given to visitors to battlefield sites by the French, Belgian, or whoever, but the Office of Australian War Graves says this:

"If you find battlefield remains

Certain battlefield areas, such as the Gallipoli Peninsula, represent a vast burial ground and should be respected as such. Should you find a bone fragment, the policy is to rebury it at the site. Should you discover more significant remains, leave them alone and contact CWGC straight away." 

 

See: https://www.dva.gov.au/commemorations-memorials-and-war-graves/office-australian-war-graves/about-office-australian-war

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Always contact the proper authorities (gendarmes in France) because it's the same everywhere...first step is to determine if it is a (somewhat recent) homicide.

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Stoppage Drill

I caught a few snippets of an interview on R4 PM yesterday, covering the business of identifying bodies, and what Coroners hold to consitute " a body" in cases of severe dismemberment.

It was in a modern context, not battlefield archaeology, but seemed it might have some relevance to the discussion in this thread.

Apparantly the entire interview will be repeated on iPM on R4, Saturday afternoon.

Edited by Stoppage Drill
typo
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1 hour ago, Stoppage Drill said:

I caught a few snippets of an interview on R4 PM yesterday, covering the business of identifying bodies, and what Coroners hold to consitute " a body" in cases of severe dismemberment.

It was in a modern context, not battlefield archaeology, but seemed it might have some relevance to the discussion in this thread.

Apparantly the entire interview will be repeated on iPM on R4, Saturday afternoon.

Yes, you beat me to it. It was a retired police officer who had been in charge at a couple of massacre scenes, and he was explaining why it took so long to inform relatives of deaths.

Basically, he said you can't tell someone that it is 90% certain that someone is dead.

Also, which surprised me he said that there is no standard definition of a 'significant' body part. One coroner says that a finger is significant, another that only complete limbs are.

So, the only thing they can do is to collect everything and then try to sort things out into bodies, and identify them in some way. Obviously this takes time and is the reason for the delays in identification.

So, in our context you can say that there isn't any standard rule. One will say one thing, another another thing. I presume this is true of countries as well (it usually is).

 

 

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