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Michael Thomson

How are potential human remains dealt with in the Somme?

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Michael Thomson

Hello. 

 

I was wondering how human remains from the Great War are dealt with in the Somme battlefield area today? I'm not talking about whole skeletons , which are of indisputably human origin and which I'd imagine are only very rarely found, but rather small bone fragments which may or may not come from a human being. 

 

The reason I ask is that on two separate occasions I have found small bone fragments which looked very much like they could come from a human being judging by their size and shape (a piece of what looked like arm or leg bone in the farm field just behind the car park at the Newfoundland Memorial Park and a piece of what looked like a rib bone between the Lochnagar crater and La Boiselle). 

 

Of course, these may have been animal bones, there's no way to tell, and I did not disturb them, but is there a process that is followed or anywhere one should report these remains to? 

 

Considering the fate of so many of the men who fought there, it is not inconcievable that human bone fragments would still be present. 

 

Interesting to find out. 

 

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depaor01

I believe small fragments are ignored - as they are in graveyards here. The police would be none too pleased if called for every piece of bone. Most recent of many discussions here:

 

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David Filsell
Posted (edited)

Rather more years ago than I remember on a visit with two pals to the Somme in the famous Sunken Road we found what appeared to be a shoulder blade in passing projecting through the base of the hedging . We had seen a CWCC vehicle near by and , literally, cased after it. The gardener took all the details and said he would report it. He most certainly did so and  and some weeks later we were informed it by the Commission that they had examined the bone. It was that of a sheep. Nevertheless I  was impressed by the diligence shown. 

Edited by David Filsell

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Hedley Malloch
Posted (edited)

On the few occasions I have found what look to my untrained eye to look like human remains in the battlefields, I take them to the nearest CWGC cemetery, make a shallow scrape with my boot at the base of a headstone and discretely bury them. If I am not sure if they are human or not I choose a headstone with 'Known Unto God' inscribed on it.

Edited by Hedley Malloch

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horrocks
On 13/06/2019 at 22:38, Hedley Malloch said:

On the few occasions I have found what look to my untrained eye to look like human remains in the battlefields, I take them to the nearest CWGC cemetery, make a shallow scrape with my boot at the base of a headstone and discretely bury them. If I am not sure if they are human or not I choose a headstone with 'Known Unto God' inscribed on it.

 

I note a dry humour, one which would have undoubtedy been appreciated by those who served in these places.

 

Sometimes one sees little bags of remnants left in the entrances to CWGC cemeteries. I don't know what the gardeners do with them.

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Marilyne

A certain Mr Know-it-all of my acquaintance claims there are "bone-drops" all over the Western Front... like a "baby-klappe"... don't want your bone, just put it in here... according to him it was done for whole skeletons until 20 years ago... uhu... seriously... 

 

now the same chap believes Napoleon to be Belgian so... 

 

M. 

 

 

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Hedley Malloch
On 20/06/2019 at 16:01, horrocks said:

I note a dry humour, one which would have undoubtedy been appreciated by those who served in these places.

I am glad somebody noticed.

Seriously what are CWGC staff supposed to do with bone fragments given to them? Identify them through chromatography and DNA? That costs money. Are small fragments entitled to a full 'known to God' ceremonial funeral? Hardly. My view would be that the owner's name would be commemorated somewhere on a headstone or memorial, so it is a question of respectful disposal not commemoration. This could be done by whoever found it or by CWGC staff in a flower-bed in the nearest CWGC cemetery.

This does call attention to the lack of ossuary facilities in CWGC cemeteries. If they had ossuaries, as can be found in many French and German cemeteries, then disposal of small fragments would not be a problem.

I pass on the following story. A couple of battlefield tourists were exploring a remote part of a distant battlefield and they found a more or less complete skeleton which had been washed out of the side of a ravine by some heavy rain. What do they do? They were on a tight timetable, flying out in 36 hours, in a country where they did not speak the language, and many miles from a CWGC facility. What do do? They popped it all in a black bin-bag which they left inside the gate of the next CWGC cemetery they visited. I don't know what happened, but the story does illustrate some of the problems of tourists who discover such remains and the limited number of ways of solving them.

 

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LDT006
On 26/06/2019 at 13:45, Hedley Malloch said:

I pass on the following story. A couple of battlefield tourists were exploring a remote part of a distant battlefield and they found a more or less complete skeleton which had been washed out of the side of a ravine by some heavy rain. What do they do? They were on a tight timetable, flying out in 36 hours, in a country where they did not speak the language, and many miles from a CWGC facility. What do do? They popped it all in a black bin-bag which they left inside the gate of the next CWGC cemetery they visited. I don't know what happened, but the story does illustrate some of the problems of tourists who discover such remains and the limited number of ways of solving them.

 

 

In this case they should not have disturbed the skeleton but should have called the police.These will check if it's a casualty of war or maybe a civilian murder case or similar.

The police will contact CWGC or other local authorities if it is war related.

There could have been important evidence/identification left at the original site which is now lost.

Moving the remains to  a cemetery themselves was not the best thing to do.

 

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Hedley Malloch

Calling the police means finding the nearest police station, talking to them in a a language you don’t understand, waiting around until they turn up to guide them to the remote spot where the bones were found, filling in witness statements almost certainly involving a translator - all in the last 36 hours of your holiday. Why would the police contact the CWGC? There was no evidence that the body was in fact British.

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voltaire60
14 hours ago, Hedley Malloch said:

Calling the police means finding the nearest police station, talking to them in a a language you don’t understand, waiting around until they turn up to guide them to the remote spot where the bones were found, filling in witness statements almost certainly involving a translator - all in the last 36 hours of your holiday. Why would the police contact the CWGC? There was no evidence that the body was in fact British.

 

       If I remember rightly (French ex-wife-No,I haven't bumped her off), there is the same obligation in France  as in the UK to report the finding of human remains to the police,who will take it from there.  Small bone fragments  are problematic and best left in situ-  who knows if the erst of the human body is not thereabouts under a few inches of soil??   But clearly human remains in quantity leaves no real choice in most civilised jurisdictions-the Authorities MUST be informed.

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Hedley Malloch

I never mentioned France. This discovery was made in Gallipoli at the top of Gully Ravine.

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BIFFO

I had a conversation with one of the Ypres dealers,he said  he gets phone calls from Farmers 2 or  three times a year,saying if you do not come and get rid of remains the farmer will throw them in a ditch,if the farmer report to cwgc he would have to stop his sowing I questioned  the dealer saying surly not, he said it was the truth.

I cannot say if its true,but I can say I heard it from the dealer ?  :poppy:

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JimSmithson
On 26/06/2019 at 12:45, Hedley Malloch said:

I am glad somebody noticed.

Seriously what are CWGC staff supposed to do with bone fragments given to them? Identify them through chromatography and DNA? That costs money. Are small fragments entitled to a full 'known to God' ceremonial funeral? Hardly. My view would be that the owner's name would be commemorated somewhere on a headstone or memorial, so it is a question of respectful disposal not commemoration. This could be done by whoever found it or by CWGC staff in a flower-bed in the nearest CWGC cemetery.

This does call attention to the lack of ossuary facilities in CWGC cemeteries. If they had ossuaries, as can be found in many French and German cemeteries, then disposal of small fragments would not be a problem.

I pass on the following story. A couple of battlefield tourists were exploring a remote part of a distant battlefield and they found a more or less complete skeleton which had been washed out of the side of a ravine by some heavy rain. What do they do? They were on a tight timetable, flying out in 36 hours, in a country where they did not speak the language, and many miles from a CWGC facility. What do do? They popped it all in a black bin-bag which they left inside the gate of the next CWGC cemetery they visited. I don't know what happened, but the story does illustrate some of the problems of tourists who discover such remains and the limited number of ways of solving them.

 

In fact Hedley the CWGC do have a system for small finds. There are a small number of graves in France and Belgium (and probably one/some in Gallipoli) which are specially marked (can't remember the inscription now but it is different to all others) and are opened when necessary for the reinterment - involving an official ceremony - of smaller finds that have been identified as very likely to be war related. 

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chaz

https://www.cwgc.org/visit-us/visitor-centres/cwgc-experience

the  visiting tour does explain that the mortuary in the centre does contain bones and skeletons awaiting research and possible identification. the mortuary being the only room the public are not allowed to look in. 

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KIRKY
1 hour ago, chaz said:

https://www.cwgc.org/visit-us/visitor-centres/cwgc-experience

the  visiting tour does explain that the mortuary in the centre does contain bones and skeletons awaiting research and possible identification. the mortuary being the only room the public are not allowed to look in. 

That looks great will call in next March, thanks for the link.

Tony

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