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Perth Digger

The Missing: Courts of Inquiry

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Perth Digger

Field Service Regulations of 1914 required every military unit to hold a court of inquiry into a missing soldier within six months of his disappearance. I would imagine that in the conditions of warfare that unfolded such courts were rarely held (informal discussions between the survivors would have been the norm). It appears, however, that the 12th London TF Regiment (The Rangers) did so at some unknown point in 1915, the subjects being Capt John Ernest Parker and 2nd Lt Alfred Ernest Whitehouse. Both were recorded missing on 8 May 1915. In the Register of Effects (on-line) both are recorded as KIA, after a Court of Inquiry. When this Court met is unknown, but it must have been a long time after May, as the battalion had been virtually destroyed in April and May 1915, with virtually all officers becoming casualties. The Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 18 December 1915, records that Parker, previously missing, had now been reported as KIA. Thus the Court's findings were probably made in November or early December. The War Office's Accounts Department began winding up the financial affairs of Parker and Whitehouse in February 1916. Both are now commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial (Panel 54). It is likely that the Court was prompted by requests from the relatives of Parker and Whitehouse to the War Office for further inquiries to be made.

 

The Court's findings must have been sent up to the DAG at 3rd Echelon and to GHQ, from which places it was sent to MS 3 Cas at the War Office. Only by following that procedure could a casualty's fate be changed to KIA from the first report (missing, wounded & missing etc). Other "non-official" information would/could lead to a presumption of Death, but not to an official KIA. 

 

I have looked at thousands of cases in the Effects registers and these are the first to confirm that an official court of inquiry was set up to determine the fate of an officer (and to change the casualty designation from Missing to KIA). I would be grateful if anyone might have information on other courts of inquiry regarding the missing. Also, if by any chance anyone has seen the Service Records of these two officers, I'd like to know if this process is mentioned therein. 

 

Thanks

 

Mike

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Ken Lees

I have seen many Australian service records which mention the court of enquiry report, including the date of the hearing. They always seem to be there for those reported missing, later confirmed as deceased.

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Perth Digger

That is interesting, Ken. Thanks for letting me know. I wonder if the British service records were more heavily weeded? The only reference I have seen in a few British officer SRs have been when relatives have made inquiries to the War Office and a query is sent to the Base (3rd Echelon). The reply sometimes had some evidence from a soldier (months after the event) who had been interviewed. This does not sound like a court of inquiry. 

 

Do you know if there was a particular official form that the court had to fill in?

 

Thanks

 

Mike

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voltaire60
Posted (edited)

Hi Pete-  I would be quite happy to look at these officer files at Kew sometime next week and report back.

 

      What I am used to-like you- is those slips of paper in a file where witnesses(usually wounded ORs but sometimes even POWs in Germany).  I have a suspicion that there may be some materials of a legal nature still held back by MOD-OK, most likely destroyed long since but on this and other issues it looks like anything legal may have been put behind 100 closure-if only we knew. Of course, the outcome of a COI would affect probate. The other areas of concern to me are those officers who were NOT exonerated after being POWs-as they were all interviewed on return (usually by barristers), then it would be a pointless exercise if everyone was exonerated.  Also, there references in this stuff to a registry numbering sequence  which appears to be on a different numbering system to anything else. The records  were generated by AG3-which appears to be the Advocate General's section at the War Office dealing with this.

    If you would, keep a look-out for any reference numbers on any documents which might track back to a section at the War Office.

    I don't think we are done yet with Great War records being disgorged by HMG

 

 

2/Lieutenant Alfred Ernest WHITEHOUSE. The London Regiment.

War Office: Officers' Services, First World War, personal files (alphabetical). 2/Lieutenant Alfred Ernest WHITEHOUSE. The London Regiment.

 

Held by:

The National Archives, Kew - War Office, Armed Forces, Judge Advocate General, and related bodies

Date:

1914 - 1919

Reference:

WO 374/73855

Subjects:

Armed Forces (General Administration) | Army | Conflict | Operations, battles and campaigns

 

 

Lieutenant John Ernest PARKER. The London Regiment.

War Office: Officers' Services, First World War, personal files (alphabetical). Lieutenant John Ernest PARKER. The London Regiment.

 

Held by:

The National Archives, Kew - War Office, Armed Forces, Judge Advocate General, and related bodies

Date:

1909 - 1921

Reference:

WO 374/52169

Subjects:

Armed Forces (General Administration) | Army | Conflict | Operations, battles and campaigns

 

Edited by voltaire60

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Perth Digger

Hi Voltaire

I'd be very grateful if you could look up those SRs for me, please. Thanks for offering.

 

I'm not sure that the interviews of ex-POW officers were aimed primarily at examining the reasons for their capture. Mostly the examiners were more interested in the conditions in POW camps and any information an officer might have on the missing. Not all examiners were barristers. Lt A B W Allistone, an ex-POW himself who was captured at Mons and who was interned in Switzerland after convincing the Germans he was mad, examined other officers who were interned in Switzerland in 1918. I don't know if he had any legal experience, but his grandfather had been a London cabbie and his father a clerk who slowly made his way up in the world to be a solicitor. So he may have had some legal experience/knowledge. In the inter-war period he worked for the main road transport pressure group and was a Fascist. 

 

I'm not sure that I understand your point about courts of inquiry possibly affecting probate. Being officially KIA or officially presumed dead had the same consequences: executors could begin probate using either document. What I remain unclear about is whether the official presumption of death allowed a widow to remarry as if the husband had been officially KIA. I know that it was at one time seen to be a problem under Scottish law, but I've seen nothing about the issue for English law. I presume that widows did not have to wait the normal seven years after the disappearance of a spouse.

 

Thanks again for the offer.

 

Mike

David

Thank you very much for the reference. I will contact the Surrey History Centre.

 

Mike

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voltaire60

Agree fully with what you say but the POW interviews were conducted to see if there was cause for concern-hence the "Exonerated" on medal cards. But it seems to me that if there was something that could become a legal issue, then the Adjutant-General's office had it's finger in the pie. OK, I believe most AG records were dumped in the 1960s but your Court of Enquiry suggests something "legal"- and I suspect there is still stuff on 100 year closure- and as much of the POW stuff was done in 1918-1919, then we may have some treats to come.

   Being "officially" dead  certainly speeded up probate and settlement of all sorts of things-   I have notes from office files where a family has asked for an officer to be officially listed as "dead" so they can get on with the paperwork.  The point I was trying to make is that anything which COULD have had legal consequences-and was to a particular person MAY have survived on extended closure. And the trail seems to be linking back to AG3.

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Ken Lees

Have you looked at the Australian "Red Cross Files"? These are the reports from colleagues of the missing made during the enquiry phase leading up to the Courts of Enquiry.

 

https://www.awm.gov.au/advanced-search/people?roll=Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Files&people

 

If you pick out one or two individuals and look at their service records, you may find some of the references to the Courts of Enquiry.

 

Ken

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Perth Digger

The Red Cross files would be a boon for those interested in Australian casualties, Ken, and they conform to the British Red Cross reports that can be found in British officers' Personal or Service Records. Unfortunately, the British Red Cross appear not to have kept records in the way their Australian counterparts did, or, if they did, they are no longer available. 

 

Thanks for the information.

 

Mike

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