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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

To be killed in action


David_Bluestein

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"Killed in action" is a phrase that is devoid of any emotion, leaving much to the imagination.

I have always found in my research that the true meaning of the phrase "killed in action" is as different for each man, as snow flakes. A soldiers death occurred in so many horrifying ways, each scenario of his last moments, in most cases are forever lost to history. However the snippets of testimonial attesting to lost friends and comrades in war diaries, newspaper clippings, regimental histories helps me understand in a more graphic way, the true nature of being "Killed In Action". These descriptions are rare to say the least, and when ever uncovered, I feel a soldiers story is complete.

Below are a few such moments that will add a human face to being "killed in action" for this handful of war dead:

Cpl. Harry Jordan -------

19th (Central Ontario) Battalion

Killed in action, September 11, 1916

"...The position assigned to Harry was an advanced post and one that needed a man of responsibility to hold. Under very trying conditions he held on with a handful of men assisting him. He succeeded in holding his post in doing so gave his life. He was killed instantly, a shrapnel shell bursting in front of his party and hitting two of his comrades at the same time..."

Pte. Thomas ------- MM

7th (British Columbia) Battalion

Killed in action, October 6, 1918

"...While billeted in a hut with company headquarters near Lecluse, an enemy high explosive shell made a direct hit on the hut, killed him instantly..."

Pte. Alexander Cameron ---------

9th Bn. Royal Scots

Killed in action April 23, 1915

"...Killed in action during the 2nd Battle of Ypres while helping a wounded school fellow after being twice wounded himself..."

Pte. Robert -----------

16th (Manitoba) Battalion

Killed in action October 8, 1916

"...He was last seen alive taking cover in a shell hole during a counter attack at Regina Trench Courcelette..."

Pte. John Main ----------------

6th Bn. Cameron Highlanders

Killed in action November 22, 1915

"...At the time of the fatal shot one of his brothers was standing by his side and was slightly wounded..."

Lieut. Geoffrey ---------------

15th (Toronto) Battalion, 48th Highlanders

Killed in action April 24, 1915

"Let me alone; just let me alone." He stretched on his back on the grass, grasping for breath. His body was later seen in the lee of a ruined farm house nearby..."

Lieut. N----------------

1st Bn. Royal Highlanders

Died of wounds October 12, 1914

"..2/Lieut. ----------, having fired ten rounds from a rifle, afterwards emptied his revolver at them. He stood up to give an order to those of his men who were left, and had drawn his claymore, when a bullet struck the scabbard, and glancing off it, entered his left hip and lodged in his bladder..."

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On a technical point the line between "killed in action" and "died of wounds" must be very blurred. Whilst instant death is obviously a "killed in action" and someone who dies in hospital is obviously "died of wounds", what about the thousands of in betweens?

Real instant death was probably relatively rare, there are lots of records of people lingering from minutes, to hours or even days before expiring. Reports, and particularly letters to the bereaved, that a soldier had "died instantly"may require treating with caution bearing in mind that those making it were often being economical with the truth in an effort to spare the relatives more pain than was nessessary.

How did those making the returns distinguish between "killed in action" and "died of wounds"?

My guess would be that if they made it to a CCS and died there or later in a hospital they would be classifed as "died of wounds". Those so badly wounded that they died before being got to a CCS would probably be classified as "killed in action". Would this be a correct assumption?

Tim

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I think the phrase "Died Of Wounds" was reserved for those who were actually admitted to a field ambulance or CCS.

Lieut. G. B. -------- (detailed above) is a good example of one soldier that technically died from his wounds (gas poisoning) and was never admitted to a hospital of any sort. There are several different eye witness accounts of his death, all reporting him gasping for breath and struggling on for quite some time until he could go no further. However he was never admitted to any facility, and died a slow and painful death as a result of gas poisoning during the 2nd Battle of Ypres. He is shown as being Killed in action April 24, 1915 and commemorated on Menin Gate.

Certainly countless men shared a similar fate, being critically wounded and unable to be moved from the line, being cared for by comrades until death. These casualties would presumably be recorded as killed in action

(Photo attached of Lieut. ------------- 15th Battalion (48th Highlanders)

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Just out of curiousity, I have a couple of items to a 30951 Pte.Thomas Holmes, 2/Devons. He is listed as KIA on 30/4/18 and is buried in St.Sever cemetery ,Rouen.

Would this be a typo error? If not, what is a KIA doing so far behind the battle zone?

Dave ;)

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Dave,

In the case you mentioned the soldier was probably transported to this cemetery or possibly another before being moved to this resting place at a later time. I recall a number of burials on the Somme being consolidated from smaller casualty stations.

In the case of the Germans almost everyone was moved to a centralized cemetery from quite a distance.

Ralph

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Thanks,Ralph.

This was one of the thoughts that crossed my mind also, but, at the time of his death, his battallion was engaged in action in the Villers Bretonneux area (I think), leaving the region for the Aisne the day after. It seems a long way to transport a corpse (V.B. - Rouen), and for what reason?

Dave (still puzzled) ;)

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As to the difference between KIA and DOW

Recently a retired Lt.Col. (Belgian Army) told me that the difference has to do with being tended to by medics or not.

Two extreme examples.

- A soldier being wounded on the battlefield, then taken far behind the lines by comrades, but for some reason not tended to by medics, and dying many hours later : that would be KIA. (Whereas normally an outsider might think : this was DOW.)

- A soldier being wounded on the battlefield, tended to immediately by a medic, and dying a few minutes later, on the spot : that would be DOW. (Though it looks more as if he was KIA.)

I have no idea if that is the way it worked, bit I just thought some of the readers might be interested in this view.

Aurel Sercu

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This is quite likely, but it confuses me even more in the case of the soldier I mentioned.

Rouen was full of military hospitals and medical staff.Also its a hell of a long way from Villers Brettoneux for his comrades to take him without him seeing anyone medical (especially as they had to be back to go down to the Aisne the next day).

A typo error ,in this case,is looking most likely wouldn't you think? Or, as another possibility, were there any airaids on Rouen around this date? If he was a victim (maybe he had previously been wounded, or was in Rouen for some other business) of one of these, would this also go down as KIA ?

Please let me know what you think (I'm becoming quite intrigued by this "mystery" ;) )

Thanks,

dave. :)

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May not have died at Rouen, Dave. May have been put on transport for Rouen and died en route. It was the tail end of the March offensives, there would still have been fighting at the fronts, lots of disorganisation due to retreat, casualties may just have been sent further back??? (8th Div at Villers Bretonneux on 25/04/18). May even have received wounds at VB, died en route, but not recorded at Rouen until 30th.

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How would one classify a wounded man dying when the Hospital Ship in which he was being transported home was torpedoed and sunk. Is this K.I.A (at sea) ?

Regards

Jim Gordon

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May not have died at Rouen, Dave. May have been put on transport for Rouen and died en route.............(8th Div at Villers Bretonneux on 25/04/18)

This is true, but why would he have been sent to Rouen (possibly unwounded or,if wounded, without seeing any medical personnel (if the previous postings are true)) when his battalion was still in action in the Villers Bretonnaux/Cachy area until the 29th April? On the 30th, they were (I think) in the western Amiens area.

If he succumbed to his wounds en route, wouldn't this be "Died of Wounds"?

I'm digging myself in deeper here!! :blink: . Untill I read this thread ,I hadn't given this guy's circumstances much thought, now I'm beginning to feel like Poirot!!! :lol:

Dave.

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How would one classify a wounded man dying when the Hospital Ship in which he was being transported home was torpedoed and sunk. Is this K.I.A (at sea) ?

Jim.

Have you seen how SDGW classifies these particular soldiers?

I would have assumed that your two men would have "Died at Sea" (not a SDGW classification - but possibly the one to be found on their death certs.),but I've just been taking a look through a (similar to) "Soldiers died" list for sailors. Most of those who died on board a vessel sunk by enemy action (ie. those who "went down" with it) are simply classified as KiA. Those who died after being picked up are either "died of wounds" or (if the cause was non-wound related) "died".There are the occasional "drowned" and "killed", but these are usually not caused by enemy action.

Dave.

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Not an easy one Dave. All you can do without specific references is research around it. Check the Divisional War Diary re arrangements for casualties during the period, if they'd broken down, and so on. Any others from the Division, same (or close) date of death ended up at Rouen?? It could be a "think laterally" job!! ;)

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Dave

Thank you for your courteous reply to my query.

I do not have the SDGW CD but have a hard-copy for the Regiment in question. In this there are two separate entries of a wounded man dying when on board an Ambulace Troopship (one -the SS Donegal torpedoed 17/11/17 and the other the SS Warilda torpedoed 3/8/18. In both instances the classification is given as "D." I agree with you this should be K.I.A. and have amended my own personal list accordingly.

It does however raise the, somewhat academic, point as to how were deaths classified if incurred by being in an ambulance destroyed by shell-fire after receiving medical attention ?

Regards

Jim Gordon

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Not an easy one Dave. All you can do without specific references is research around it. Check the Divisional War Diary re arrangements for casualties during the period, if they'd broken down, and so on. Any others from the Division, same (or close) date of death ended up at Rouen?? It could be a "think laterally" job!! ;)

I'll certainly be looking deeper into it now the "bug has bitten". As I said before, I'd previously just accepted "what was", and not "why". (Does that make sense? ;) )

Since reading this thread, a certain sense of curiousity about this particular soldier has dug in, and now I need to know more!!!! (Bit of an addiction ,I think!)

Mind you ,that's one of the joys of this forum - more "dealers" to tempt us Great War "junkies". :D

dave.

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Is there any chance that this man may have been in some sort of Coma,caused by his injuries?

That still wouldn't explain why he was KIA rather than DOW,i know,but maybe this was the reason for the confusion.

It seems that the area around VB and Cachy and Hangard wood,was a real hotspot,the fighting heavy and confused.

I noticed in Crucifix Corner cemetary,just below Hangard Wood,a Royal Berks man whose date of death was the 20th to the 27th of April 1918,the first time i had seen this.

Any chance that the man you mention,could have been killed in a bombing raid?

They were more common than i realised.

Interested to see how you get on with this one,having a great interest in this area.

All the best.

Simon.

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