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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

MISSING IN ACTION .


steve140968

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:blink: After reading some statistics on the great war i have what to some might seem as very basic questions , but bare with me all the same . One of the figures i read was that if you served in the infantry you stood a 86% chance of either being killed / died , wounded , were missing in action , or were taken prisoner . My questions are as follows - What were the main reasons for being 'missing in action ?' When registered as missing in action would anyone be sent to look for these soldiers ? And finally at what point did 'missing in action' become 'killed in action'? Many thanks , Steve .
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Steve

I think the main reason for being 'missing in action' was that the body was completely destroyed by shellfire, either immediately on impact or after the person had been killed and the body was lying on the ground. In the deep mud of Flanders and the late Autumn Somme battlefield for example, MIA was also due to the body disappearing into the ground.

Robert

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Alternative view:- The main reason for being MIA would be getting killed or seriously wounded in a place where you couldn`t be accounted for, typically in no man`s land after a failed attack. A man would be looked for if it was practicable, but common sense dictates that one wouldn`t want to expend further lives in searching for lost men.

A MIA became KIA when there was considered to be no hope of his being found either dead or POW or even deserter. This could be many months later, even years. Hope that helps! Phil B

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A lack of identification. For example:

Until November 1916 soldiers had just the one identity tag. After that time they had two, so that one could remain with the body and the other be removed.

Also, sometimes soldiers were told to leave anything that could identify them behind. So, the division attacks and has a thousand dead who are left out in no-mans land for a couple of months.....

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I don't think I ever heard the phrase, "missing in action" until I heard it as an American phrase referring to soldiers missing in the Vietnam war.

Can anyone confirm that the phrase "missing in action" was actually used by the British Army during the Great War? The reason I ask is that the phrase carries with it assumptions which I don't think the British made. For example Steve asks at what point "missing in action" becomes "killed in action" and this suggests that "missing in action" meant "dead."

Tom

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Guest Russell.Gore@crawley.gov.uk

Some of the dead were buried correctly but the location markers of their burial sites were either destroyed or the records were lost due to enemy action,i think that the Man would have been listed as MIA for about a year before being declared officially dead.Interestingly enough Charles Carrington notes in his Book Soldiers From The War Returning ,mentions that he returned to his old section of the Somme Battlefield in 1921 and found the remains of a British Soldier in an abandoned Dugout,he also mentioned that many badly wounded men would simply crawl into inaccessible areas and die.Thus making it very hard to know just what had happened to them. :(

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;) Thanks guys , as i suspected . What a terrible situation , only worse for the poor devils stranded , unable to move and receive help . Ultimately who decided when they became 'killed in action'? I am supprised Phil that this whole process could take 'years' , i would think that they would want to draw a line under it for the 'next of kins' sake . Steve .
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I think you`re right, Tom - MIA wasn`t a WW1 term though many men were reported as missing in local newspaper accounts. In which case, he probably was dead, though he could still turn up in odd cases. Phil B

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In WW1 the phrase was 'Missing' or 'Missing Believe Killed'. I have never seen Missing in Action or MIA in any papers at TNA. Not that I recall, anyway.

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Normally, the official wording in the first instance was "missing". For the family this had a financial effect. "Missing" meant that a soldier's wife still received any allowances due her until such time had passed, that the authorities could prove, or assume, his death. After that, she would receive a small pension.

The families of men who had been employed pre-war with local councils often received a discretionary allowance on receipt of the official announcement that he was missing , from the former employer. This was often reviewed on a monthly basis, until such time as the War Office informed them of their ultimate fate and confirmed that the widow was in receipt of any death benefit. at which point the council would then stop their allowance. A small word with important implications.

Terry Reeves

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In WW1 the phrase was 'Missing' or 'Missing Believe Killed'. I have never seen Missing in Action or MIA in any papers at TNA. Not that I recall, anyway.

Well, that's what I thought Paul. The thing is that it's pointless discussing what "missing in action" meant if that phrase was never used.

Even the term "Missing" didn't mean "Died, but no-one knows what happened to the body." (That's what it means nowadays, as far as the CWGC is concerned.)

Quite large numbers of the Missing might not even be dead at all.

At a roll-call after being in action, soldiers would be either present or not. If not, they were "Missing." The next job was to try to explain where the "Missing" men were. Some would have been Killed in Action, with witnesses. Others would be mixed up with the unit next door and would turn up again the next day. Quite significant numbers might be miles away, somewhere in the system for evacuating the wounded. They would show up on medical returns. Others would be wounded out in No-Man's Land. These might or might not make their own way in or be found. Others would be prisoners. They might never show up until after the war, especially if they were sent to a POW camp where they were not allowed to register with the Red Cross. Finally there were those men who had simply disappeared without trace.

Anyway, after a certain time, with all reports in, the number of Missing was often drastically reduced and by this time the "Missing" were just the ones known to have gone into action but never seen again. Even so, some of these men could be found out in No-Man's Land following a successful attack months later and they would be removed from the list of Missing, just as they are today, when identified remains are found.

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In WW1 the phrase was 'Missing' or 'Missing Believe Killed'.

My Great GrandFathers MIC states...

"Presumed Dead 8th Oct 15."

Yet another phrase along the same lines.

Mark

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My Great GrandFathers MIC states...

"Presumed Dead 8th Oct 15."

Yet another phrase along the same lines.

Mark

Yes indeed, and I have also seen on medal rolls "D.P." for Death Presumed.

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The phraseology all comes from the Roll Call - men shouted a response to their names and silence meant that a man would be marked as missing from the Rolls. In wartime, a mans comrades would often offer an explanation hence:

"I saw him in a shell hole, wounded" gets you 'missing believed wounded' and could either crawl back, be recovered by bearers or captured.

"I saw him shot down" gets 'Missing Believed Killed'

"He was wounded and left when they counter attacked" get 'Missing believed captured'.

Each unit would hold courts of inquiry into 'missing' soldiers and if no news had been received, their relatives would get another telegram with 'missing, presumed dead' or something similar. Sometimes this could be days after an action but all I believe were changed for 'missing' to this by 1919.

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  • 2 weeks later...
Guest Simon Bull
Others would be prisoners. They might never show up until after the war, especially if they were sent to a POW camp where they were not allowed to register with the Red Cross.

Two points

(1) I wondered, Tom, if you are speculating re the existence of such PoW camps or whether there is positive evidence that such PoW camps (i.e. those denying registration) existed.

(2) My Grandfather was regarded as missing after he was taken prisoner in April 1918 (until news that he was a prisoner filtered through). I have no idea as to whether this was based upon official information of some kind or upon a letter (which I have seen) from one of his officers, reporting to the family that he regarded there as being a 50/50 chance that my grandfather was dead or a prisoner. When (as a teenager) my interest in family history was first kindled my grandfather told me of the existence of an aunt of his whom I had not known about. He said that he had lost touch with her after the War because he had not felt well disposed towards her. Apparently, for reasons that I do not fully understand, this aunt had stood to gain from his death financially in relation to some kind of inheritance within the family and had tried to get him (in some way) declared dead very rapidly, so that she could benefit from his being dead. One could understand his feelings on the point!

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Others would be prisoners.  They might never show up until after the war, especially if they were sent to a POW camp where they were not allowed to register with the Red Cross.

Two points

(1) I wondered, Tom, if you are speculating re the existence of such PoW camps or whether there is positive evidence that such PoW camps (i.e. those denying registration) existed.

Simon - I try never to speculate, preferring to remain silent if I'm not fairly certain of what I am about to say. Of course, that doesn't mean that I'm always right. I learned about Red Cross registration via Richard van Emden's Prisoners of the Kaiser. New arrivals he says, were given postcards to fill in and Red Cross officials collected them. With the information at their disposal they were able to inform the military authorities of which prisoners were being held where, and they in turn were able to inform the next-of-kin of information received. The Red Cross were also able to log the new arrivals into their welfare system, such as it was.

The same book refers to prisoners who weren't given the opportunity to register in this way. I can't check with the book at the moment, but I think that there were whole camps which denied this opportunity. Perhaps a Pal can look up this aspect in the book for us to clarify.

Tom

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One of the figures i read was that if you served in the infantry you stood a 86% chance of either being killed / died , wounded , were missing in action , or were taken prisoner .

Steve.

Just curious. Where does this figure come from, and does it give a time period? (ie. does it refer to a soldier who arrived in France in August 1914?) I'm asking this as, to me, an 86% chance of becoming a casualty seems a little excessive for the British Infantry after 1914.

Dave.

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The Swansea Battalion was formed following a Mayoral appeal and the Mayors son (Frank Corker) served as a Second Lt. He went missing folowing a trench raid in June 1916. Search parties went out on two consecutive nights trying to find him or his body (they didn't find him).

The subsequent WO telegram stated he was reported 'missing June 5th'. The Battalion CO told the family 'your boy has been killed in action. He will be offically put down as missing...'. Following an enquiry from Frank's grieving mother the WO replied in Feb 1917 that it was 'regretfully constrained to conclude that this officer died on or since 4th June 1916...'

Bernard

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;) Hi Dave ,

the figure comes from a link kindly posted by m13pgb in reply to a question i posted on the 29th Dec 2004 entitled 'casualty numbers - daily averages ', phil's reply containing the link was on 2nd Jan 2005 . The file is attatched below .

Regards ,

Steve .

figures_2_.htm

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Guest Simon Bull
Others would be prisoners.  They might never show up until after the war, especially if they were sent to a POW camp where they were not allowed to register with the Red Cross.

Two points

(1) I wondered, Tom, if you are speculating re the existence of such PoW camps or whether there is positive evidence that such PoW camps (i.e. those denying registration) existed.

Simon - I try never to speculate, preferring to remain silent if I'm not fairly certain of what I am about to say. Of course, that doesn't mean that I'm always right. I learned about Red Cross registration via Richard van Emden's Prisoners of the Kaiser. New arrivals he says, were given postcards to fill in and Red Cross officials collected them. With the information at their disposal they were able to inform the military authorities of which prisoners were being held where, and they in turn were able to inform the next-of-kin of information received. The Red Cross were also able to log the new arrivals into their welfare system, such as it was.

The same book refers to prisoners who weren't given the opportunity to register in this way. I can't check with the book at the moment, but I think that there were whole camps which denied this opportunity. Perhaps a Pal can look up this aspect in the book for us to clarify.

Tom

Thanks Tom. I thought I had a copy of this book, but cannot find it, otherwise I would have followed your reference up.

Thanks again for your help.

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I looked this morning and found a letter passed on to the local paper which should clarify this issue. I will key in the exact text later .. but the little article based on the letter made it plain that anyone whose relative was posted as missing received a note of clarification as to what the term actually meant.

This seemed to be a standard addendum to such lettters. Anyone got one handy now? If not I'll post this evening.

Des

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Guest Simon Bull

This thread has set me thinking about the civil law side of this issue.

I have no idea what procedures existed in civil law for getting soldiers declared dead during the Great War. There must, during both World Wars, have been special procedures.

As the Tsunami disaster revealed, the procedures in peacetime for getting missing people declared dead are, with good reason, quite onerous and rigidly delineated and require a high standard of proof. This is because the consequences of declaring someone dead who is not dead can be very serious (eg all their property would have been inherited by others; their "widow/er" might have remarried etc).

In ordinary civil law there is a presumption that someone is dead if they have not been seen/heard for 7 years. However, a formal declaration of the death of a missing person is still required from a court.

This would obviously be impossibly cumbersome in wartime, and I wonder how the civil authorities coped with this. The relatives of the deceased could not proceed to inherit property, re-marry etc, until he was in some way formally declared dead, but I would not have thought that the decision of the Battalion/Regiment on this would be final, particularly if the Battalion/Regiment refused to regard as dead someone who had been missing for a long time. Presumably the crucial factor would have been the issue, by the civil authorities, of a death certificate, and I have no idea what procedures and considerations governed the decision to do this.

I would have thought that, (given the scale of the casualties and the scope for bureaucratic confusion, let alone the practical uncertainties of the situation) there almost certainly must have been cases in which men who had been legally regarded as dead turned out not to be dead. I wonder if this happened in cases where widows had remarried, property had passed under wills/intestacy etc.

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