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Phil Evans

German burials in Greenwich Cemetery

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Phil Evans

Whilst browsing the ICRC records recently, I came across document A-40444, (List No. 254 of German Prisoners of War - Europe - Military Forces - Appendix V. Particulars of Burial of Deceased Prisoners of War.), which shows that twelve German soldiers, who died of wounds in local military hospitals, were buried in common graves in Greenwich Cemetery. Subsequent searches located a thirteenth.

As none are currently recorded on the CWGC database as still being there, I assumed that they had been removed to Cannock Chase. It appears however, that this is not entirely the case. Of the thirteen, only six appear on the casualty records. They lie in adjacent graves, implying that they were moved together and were exhumed from three adjacent graves at Greenwich.

They are:

Wilhelm SIEGELER; Plot 16 Row 8 Grave 119; buried 21/09/16 Greenwich Grave B.4324

Wilhelm GROSS; Plot 16 Row 9 Grave 120; buried 30/08/16 Greenwich Grave B.4324

Wilhelm Heinrich KREMER; Plot 16 Row 9 Grave 121; buried 01/10/18 Greenwich Grave B.4325

Fritz GRONOW; Plot 16 Row 9 Grave 122; buried 04/10/16 Greenwich Grave B.4325

(Paul) Willy HAMMER; Plot 16 Row 9 Grave 123; buried 30/08/16 Greenwich Grave B.4323

Julius FIGGLE; Plot 16 Row 9 Grave 124; buried 29/07/16 Greenwich Grave B.4323

Those that would appear to still lie in unmarked graves in Greenwich Cemetery are:

August KRAUSS; buried 03/11/14; Grave A.248

Johann RZYDKE; buried 26/10/14; Grave B.23

Heinrich Karl August RITTER; buried 05/11/14; Grave B.23

Adolph RISKE; buried 28/12/14; Grave B.23

Ferdinand HOFT; buried 21/07/16; Grave B.128

Paul HABERLAND; buried 28/09/14; Grave B.204

Paul LOHOFER; buried 08/12/14; Grave B.230

I have extracted all the documents that I can find on each of them from the ICRC database.

I have been unable to find online the precise wording of the agreement made between the UK Government and the Federal Republic of Germany in 1959, but take it, from other sources, that the intention was to transfer all German nationals who died as a result of both WW1 and WW2 in the UK, to Cannock Chase, unless they already lie in graves that came under the care of the CWGC. Is this correct? How thorough were the VDK and how complete were the records they had to work from?

A subsequent search of the National Archives brings up files HO 282/4, (which may be the agreement that I am looking for) and HO 282/21, which may also be useful. They will have to wait until I can next get to Kew.

Has anyone else come across a similar situation, or have any thoughts as to how I can take it further?

Phil

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AliceF

Hi,

I checked some of the names in the German database of the VDK.
Here also identified Germans in British cemeteries are listed.

The answers that come up I have never seen before:
For example for August Krauss:

„August Krauss ruht auf der Kriegsgräberstätte in Nicht definiert.
Endgrablage: Einzelgrab
Todes-/Vermisstendatum:
31.10.1914”

Which means: August Krauss is buried in a war cemetery ”Undefined”
Grave: Individual grave. Date of death 31.10.1914

I found similar results for some of the others while I could not find all (but I have to check with different spellings).

Christine

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AliceF

Here the ones I found:

August KRAUSS; buried 03/11/14; Grave A.248

http://www.volksbund.de/index.php?id=1775&tx_igverlustsuche_pi2[gid]=4d97de6d67494b6bcda686d6fd713428(buried in an unidentified cemetery)

Johann RZYDKE; buried 26/10/14; Grave B.23

http://www.volksbund.de/index.php?id=1775&tx_igverlustsuche_pi2[gid]=5be47d3b8ee5daec1eeeded495321197(was not possible to exhume – because not found?)

Heinrich Karl August RITTER; buried 05/11/14; Grave B.23

http://www.volksbund.de/index.php?id=1775&tx_igverlustsuche_pi2[gid]=c43459989194068243ca139cae569a00(was not possible to exhume – because not found?)

Adolph RISKE; buried 28/12/14; Grave B.23

http://www.volksbund.de/index.php?id=1775&tx_igverlustsuche_pi2[gid]=2f623de446dfaa08ddc210e80d34737c(was not possible to exhume – because not found?)

Paul HABERLAND; buried 28/09/14; Grave B.204

http://www.volksbund.de/index.php?id=1775&tx_igverlustsuche_pi2[gid]=397f6d9c2b2e66b969baa2b220cbb324 (was not possible to exhume – because not found?)

Would be interesting to know what happened.

Christine

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Phil Evans

Christine,

Thank you very much.

As you know, my understanding of the German language is nil and have never been able to navigate the VDK database successfully.

Do you read it that the VDK knew the burial information, but could not locate the actual grave?

The actual grave references in the ICRC documents are incomplete, but they should be complete in the burial register for the cemetery. I have checked the names using the Deceased Online search facility, which gives me confirmation of the date of burial and also tells me how many others are buried in the same grave.

Phil

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AliceF

Actually I do not really understand the terms the VDK uses here. Maybe Jan could explain.

The German text on the VDK homepage for Johann Rydzik is the following:
„Johann Rzydke konnte im Rahmen unserer Umbettungsarbeiten nicht geborgen werden. Die vorgesehene Überführung zum Sammelfriedhof in Nicht definiert war somit leider nicht möglich.“

Meaning something like: It was not possible to exhume JR within our reburial program. The planned reburial in the concentration cemetery in “undefined” was therefore not possible.

All a bit strange.

More often the situation should be like this (I got this explanation from VDK about a WW2 relative, but it should be similar for WW1): A grave where several soldiers are buried is opened and the soldiers cannot be identified anymore. The remains are then reburied in the concentration cemetery. The text on the VDK would explain it like this: “We tried to exhume XY and rebury in the cemetery of Z, but we could not identify the remains. But we believe that the remains of XY are transferred from the original burial place to Z.”

So what could explain this case here? They opened up the grave and – did not find any remains???
Or they did not find the grave? Even more unlikely.

Christine

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AOK4

Hello,

A possible explanation is that the grave wasn't found when they exhumed the bodies from Greenwich (perhaps the cemetery was damaged by a bombing raid in WW2?) or that there was a new grave over the German grave. The "nicht definiert" means that they haven't filled out the cemetery to which the graves were supposed to be reburied.

Jan

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Phil Evans

Thank you Christine and Jan.

Subject to me getting the full grave reference, I think I know where at least some of the graves are. They are all common graves, i.e. containing multiple burials, including the one's from which the successful exhumations were carried out. Unlike a number of other cemeteries in this area, the ground level was not raised to facilitate further burials.

Around 1919-1920, several Commonwealth casualties were exhumed from this section, for re-interment in single CWGC graves. It was relatively easy, if time cosuming, to trace these, as the National Archives holds the old Home Office ledgers that contain the exhumation orders. The British casualties remained in their original graves, but the CWGC commemorated them on a Screen Wall, as they were unable to erect individual headstones and maintain them. Several headstones, that were privately erected, can still be found , even though the area is semi-wild now.

Unfortunately, the National Archives does not appear to hold the exhumation orders for the period that the VDK was concentrating graves into Cannock Chase, otherwise I could see if they did try. My next step. I think, will be to pin down the full grave reference and do a bit of ground work.

Phil

post-20576-0-48573200-1452719858_thumb.j Greenwich Plots A & B these days

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AliceF

I see, so the problem is really to locate the graves in the cemetery. Did not know that these types of semi-wild plots exist. But I still do not really understand the entry in the VDK database. Why could they not state that the remains probably are in Greenwich even if the exact location is not known? That cannot be so unusual.
Christine

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AOK4

I see, so the problem is really to locate the graves in the cemetery. Did not know that these types of semi-wild plots exist. But I still do not really understand the entry in the VDK database. Why could they not state that the remains probably are in Greenwich even if the exact location is not known? That cannot be so unusual.

Christine

Because officially all German graves had to be moved, so they couldn't say that some still remain, I think.

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AliceF

In the Verlustenliste I found:

August Krauß, died as prisoner 31.10.1914 http://des.genealogy.net/search/show/1686167

Johann Rzydke: only one entry under this name, seriously wounded: http://des.genealogy.net/search/show/718281(list from 14.11.1914)

In the same unit as Johann: Heinrich Ritter, also seriously wounded, http://des.genealogy.net/search/show/718262(same list)

Adolf Rieske (with ie): in captivity http://des.genealogy.net/search/show/1079654and died http://des.genealogy.net/search/show/1873932

Paul Lohöfer (with ö): died in captivity http://des.genealogy.net/search/show/1390617

Ferdinand Höft (with ö): in captivity http://des.genealogy.net/search/show/5197973(death is not listed).

Paul Haberland are many – but could be checked.

Maybe this helps.

Christine

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Phil Evans

Christine,

The condition of that part of Greenwich is nothing compared to most of the local cemeteries that I inhabit. This time of the year, when the undergrowth dies down, is the best for grave hunting.

Thank you for the Verlustenliste entries.

Jan,

That is interesting. I didn't know that it was a requirement to move the graves.

A couple of years ago I did some research, initially for myself, but later for the CWGC, regarding the reburial of Commonwealth casualties in single graves in local cemeteries. Many of the early casualties were originally buried in common graves. In all the individual cases I studied, there was only one that wasn't moved. The reason he wasn't relocated was because the local authority would not allow the grave to be re-opened on health grounds. Bear in mind that these reburials were carried out in about 1920, not 50+ years later.

Greenwich Cemetery uses a very confusing numbering system. At the moment, I am going through all the burial register entries for the German casualties in order to get the full grave reference. I will then compare them with the CWGC database for the British casualties, which although they are now on the Screen Wall, I do know where some of the graves are located. Eventually, I hope to be able to roughly plot them.

Phil

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AliceF

It's really a detective work! Reminds me a bit when I tried to understand grave locations in Fins (France). But that was paper work (understanding the numbering and in which order graves were used) not field work!
Good luck and I am curious to hear how it goes.
Christine

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rolt968

Is it possible to check if the common graves were used for burial again? If so there would be complications.

RM

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Phil Evans

Rolt,

I haven't studied in depth yet, but I now have the full data for each grave. In brief, it looks like the one's that were moved would have been quite easy, the others vary.

I got a bit sidetracked on forensic taphonomy this evening.

Phil

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rolt968

I had wondered if it was not possible to identify the remains if the grave had been used again or someone had been buried above the German casualties and it was legally difficult to disturb the grave above.

Roger M

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Phil Evans

Roger,

The legalities are covered by Section 25 of the Burials Act 1857. It may have been superseded now, but I believe it was still in force back in the 1960's.

Back in 1919 / 1920 when Dominion casualties were being relocated to single graves, it was not uncommon for a grave to be opened more than once, but attitudes, or Home Office practice, may have changed by 1960.

The six that were moved would not have presented any problems, as they were the topmost burials. The earlier burials in those three graves, with one exception (1895), all date to 1880. I believe that the ground may have also been raised throughout the plot, to accommodate further burials.

The remaining seven would have presented some problems. The graves each contain between 8 and 12 burials, spanning a one month period roughly. In three cases, the German burials were the first.

Despite the conditions, I did manage to positively locate three of the graves today. I think I have found a further one and the last one needs more work doing.

As to why the VDK didn't move the remaining men to Cannock Chase - I just don't know, at the moment.

Without access to the Home Office files, unlike for my previous research, I don't know if an application was made in the first place, if it was and denied at some level, or whether the VDK just decided that it was going to be too difficult, or expensive, to carry it out.

Phil

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AOK4

If they were buried in joint graves, who could have told who was who when the graves were relocated?

That's probably the reason then why they were not transferred.

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Phil Evans

No doubt it would probably have been easier to acquire a grave location map, but where is the fun in that?

After a couple of visits, I have been able to locate all of the remaining graves. I can only approximate where the cleared graves were, as there are no headstones in that area.

Phil

post-20576-0-11541800-1454251027_thumb.j

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AliceF

Very interesting!

How did you find the locations?

Do you have a photo?

Christine

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Phil Evans

Christine,

This section of Greenwich Cemetery appears almost unique, in that, although they are common graves, private headstones have been allowed. I also now have access to Deceased Online (at a price), which includes the full burial records for this cemetery.

Although the plots were abandoned many years ago and the grass is only cut down once a year, I can usually scrape around enough gravestones to find a grave number in close proximity to the one I'm looking for. It's then just a case of pacing it out and drawing up a rough sketch map, for plotting up later. Luckily, the numbering system is orderly.

I have taken quite a few photos, but they are meaningless until I add some location detail to them. Below is the one I have just tidied up for Grave B.23, where Riske, Ritter and Rzydke are buried. As you can see, the only marked graves are B.20 and B.25, so it is a question of interpolating the position of B.23.

Incidentally, these two fairly small plots (90m x 30m all told) contain close on two hundred WW1 graves. All the names are commemorated on the Screen Wall, (visible at the bottom of my photo in post #18), apparently because the CWGC did not feel they would be able to maintain the individual graves. However,there are a few remaining legible private headstones that I have managed to photograph before they disappear. Although there are no headstones for them, there are two men buried in B.25.

Phil

post-20576-0-49291600-1454261496_thumb.j

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AliceF

Thank you for your explanations and the photo!
Do you have any plans, what to do next?
Christine

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Phil Evans

Christine,

I have absolutely no idea what I am going to do next.

Any suggestions are welcome.

I did manage to stumble my way into the VDK database today to look for Paul Lohofer.

I think this is his entry here.

Phil

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AliceF

Well, done!

Of course Lohöfer in the Verlustenliste became Löhofer in the VDK database. Always good to check different spellings!
Difficult to know what is correct (but there is no person called Löhofer registered in the German phone book today, while 81 Lohöfer are).

Ferdinand Höft is here: http://www.volksbund.de/index.php?id=1775&tx_igverlustsuche_pi2[gid]=bea1e7bba602bef359fe40435855dfa8.

Christine

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AOK4

Well, done!

Of course Lohöfer in the Verlustenliste became Löhofer in the VDK database. Always good to check different spellings!

Difficult to know what is correct (but there is no person called Löhofer registered in the German phone book today, while 81 Lohöfer are).

Ferdinand Höft is here: http://www.volksbund.de/index.php?id=1775&tx_igverlustsuche_pi2[gid]=bea1e7bba602bef359fe40435855dfa8.

Christine

It isn't the first (nor the last) error in the database of the VDK. I contact them regularly with corrections, supported by copies from old cemetery registers or a link to the Verlustliste. Afterwards, I usually receive a letter syaing that they will correct the name.

Jan

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Phil Evans

A visit to the National Archives earlier this week has answered most of my queries.

HO 282/21, “Exhumation from graves throughout the UK and re-interment in the German Military Cemetery, Cannock Chase, Staffs, of the remains of German servicemen killed in the First and Second World Wars.”

This file (600+ photos worth) contains the surviving correspondence between the UK Government, the VDK and various local authorities for England & Wales, directly relating to the exhumations, in accordance with the 1959 agreement. It contains copies of the exhumation orders, with accompanying schedules. The orders are generally issued county by county. The schedules give a full list of the known German burials, listed by cemetery and churchyard location.

I have found four documents which are directly relevant to Greenwich Cemetery:

The Home Office exhumation order, reference BUR 47/8/12, Licence No. 10092, was issued on 17th September 1962. The attached schedule lists nineteen names, which, in addition to my original list, contains two seamen from WW1 and four airmen from WW2. I have subsequently ascertained that the seamen were not removed to Cannock Chase, but the airmen were.

The other two documents which relate directly to Greenwich Cemetery are; (1) a letter from the Town Clerk, dated 11/11/1960 and (2) the Home Office response, dated 6/1/1961.

  1. From the Town Clerk, Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich to the Home Office:

“Sir,

Exhumation of German War Dead

I have your letter of the 8th November 1960, regarding the exhumation of German war dead from civil cemeteries for re-interment in a new central war cemetery.

I am informed that in a number of instances in the first world war German nationals were buried in common graves and in some instances have one or two persons interred on top of them.

I shall be pleased to receive your instructions as to whether the usual practice of obtaining the consents of the relatives of the persons interred above for the moving of those bodies to permit the exhumation to take place.

I await your guidance on this point.”

  1. Home Office response:

“Sir,

With reference to your letter of 11th November 1960, I am directed by the Secretary of State to say that he is informed that the Volksbund do not propose to remove German war dead who are buried in common graves or whose removal could not be carried out without disturbing other dead.”

I think that I now have conclusive proof that the men buried in Plots A and B still lie there. However, there is still a niggling anomaly regarding the six WW1 Germans who are recorded as being removed to Cannock Chase. The burial registers do not record that they were subsequently exhumed. From my research over the years, I have found that the Greenwich Cemetery staff were extremely conscientious when it came to recording exhumations on the original burial registers. This was certainly true for the reburial of Dominion troops in single graves back in 1919 / 1920. The WW2 airmen’s exhumations are recorded and I have also come across various civilian exhumations. As I stated in an earlier post, there would not have been a logistical problem with these exhumations, so in all likelihood they did take place. I may contact Greenwich to see if they have any separate records, just to clear it up.

Phil

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