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Repatriation of the fallen


Clive Maier
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I am inspired by Mark Hone’s recent thread - about a repatriation story that proved to be false - to ask whether there are any records or known research on the repatriated dead of the Great War.

I had always understood that such cases were rare but is it known how many there were?

In The Unending Vigil, his history of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Philip Longworth notes that Marshal Joffre made an order in March 1915 that banned exhumations for the duration of the war. Shortly after, in April 1915, Fabian Ware obtained an order from the Adjutant-General that forbade exhumations on the dual grounds of hygiene and equality between rich and poor. It was the egalitarian principle that the commission later upheld against very strong opposition, particularly at the end of the war.

Does this mean that repatriation of bodies - where it could be afforded and when it could be managed under battlefield conditions – was freely available before March 1915? Presumably, most repatriations would have come from hospitals, ambulance posts and casualty clearing stations where the dead would have been formally buried in the first place and were subsequently easier to recover.

I have stumbled across a repatriation in the course of researching a World War II pilot who apparently should be on the memorial at Southborough but isn’t. He is Flight Lieutenant Willie Rhodes-Moorhouse DFC, who was shot down in combat over Tunbridge Wells and crashed near Southborough. His father, Lieutenant William Barnard Rhodes-Moorhouse VC, was mortally wounded while bombing the railway line near Courtrai on 26 April 1915. Despite his injuries, he got his aircraft back to base and insisted on reporting his mission. He died the next day and was awarded the VC for this exploit. I understand he was the first airman to receive the honour.

Father and son are buried side by side in the grounds of the family home in Dorset.

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Clive,

From a recent thread on the Lincolnshire Yeomanry it became apparent that Capt, the Lord Kesteven, (Sir Thomas Carew Trollope) who died as a result of the attack on the SS Mercian in Nov 1915 was repatriated. Trollope appears to have initially been buried in Algeria, the first land fall after the attack, but is now buried at Crowcombe, Somerset.

Jim

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There was a thread on the Anzac research site a month or two ago about General Bridges who was the only Australian killed in the war who was brought back.

Apparently he was buried after dying of wounds and was transported back to Australia in some sort of container.

I'll try and find the link to this discussion.

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I'm sure I've read somewhere of a body being repatriated during the early part of the war, unfortunately I can't recall where I read it or the name of the person.

Not much help really except to confirm that it probably did happen.

Rob

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I was reading recently about a supposed incident where a woman, with the aid of some hired muscle, 'hijacked' a body and smuggled it back. I think it was in one of those Canadian 'For King and Empire' books for sale at 'In Flanders Fields'. The author of the series is very bitter about the non-repatriation of Canadian dead. Is there any truth in this story?

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Prior to mid 1915 repatriation was allowed if you could afford it. No great numbers were involved and all were officers including Field Marshal Roberts.

This subject was discussed on another thread recently about the Lincolnshire Yeomanry. I have been researching the subject and have gathered names of the relatively few. However, there were more cases of Canadians being repatriated at the end of the war but they died in the UK - 'overseas' to them.

After WW2 some British forces casualties were repatriated from the UK to their home countries following diplomatic pressure but these were foreigners serving in the UK forces (Americans, French, Belgians etc). A few similar cases occurred after WW1 but again to foreigners dying in the UK whilst in the British forces.

And there were the three (soon to be four) Unknown Soldiers.

Clive

William Rhodes-Moorhouse was not a repatriation as he died in the UK - or have I misunderstood your comment? He was cremated in Brighton (Woodvale) Crematorium and his name appears on the CWGC screen wall there. It was later discovered that his ashes were taken to Parnham, Dorset and buried in the family's private cemetery there. Therefore, CWGC now record that as his place of burial.

Sorry - just realised. I did misunderstand. You were referring to R-M Snr!

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As Terry says it was mainly senior officers, or those with money. I have heard of a couple of dozen examples; one was Major General H.I.M.Hamilton, who commanded 3rd Division, was killed by shell fire at Vielle Chapelle on 14.10.14 and was brought home... now being buried at Cheriton in Kent. See:

http://www.cwgc.org/cwgcinternet/casualty_...casualty=368718

Mark - the Canadian example you mention was in the King & Empire series by Norm Christie, who once worked for CWGC. I have found him pretty reliable.

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Thanks for the instant replies. There is no beating this forum. I would be very glad to hear about any other repatriations known to the pals.

Terry,

I am much obliged for the information about Rhodes-Moorhouse Jnr being commemorated at Brighton. I wonder why he was cremated there? He crashed near the High Brooms railway viaduct.

I hope Rhodes-Moorhouse Snr was a new one for your collection. I owe you a few.

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Clive

Re Rhodes-Moorehouse Jnr

CWGC treat cremations as burials for record purposes. They do not differentiate between the two forms of disposal.

When a casualty was cremated (and there were quite a few in the UK in WW1 but many more in WW2) and their ashes either scattered at the crematorium or placed in a niche in a wall there, their name is inscribed on a screen wall or bronze panel at the crematorium (space for this invariably provided by the crematorium owners free of charge) - this becoming their place of commemoration as far as CWGC is concerned. This is also the case if the location of the ashes is unknown.

If the ashes were taken away and buried in a cemetery, as did happen on several occassions, then the cemetery is their place of commemoration and the spot is marked by either a standard CWGC headstone or a private memorial of some description.

This happened to R-M Jnr. He was at first thought to be scattered at the crematorium or at an unknown location and hence his name is on the wall but was later discovered to have been taken to Parnham. However, why he was cremated at Brighton, I haven't a clue!

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... I hope Rhodes-Moorhouse Snr was a new one for your collection. I owe you a few.

Apologies. This looks disrespectful to William Rhodes-Moorhouse Snr. and that was not my intention at all. I was trying to convey that Terry has helped me more than I have helped him, and that it would be nice to redress the balance a little.

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Mark - the Canadian example you mention was in the King & Empire series by Norm Christie, who once worked for CWGC. I have found him pretty reliable.

The incident of the removal of the body of William Arthur Peel Durie is mentioned in Norm Christie's "The Canadians at Passchendaele: October to November 1917" on pages 66-67. Following is a quote from the book:

"On December 29, 1917 in the frontline trenches near Lens, a large trench mortar shell hit the parados, killing Durie instantly. He was buried in Corkscrew British Cemetery near Lens, France.

In 1919, his mother Anna approached the Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission (CWGC) and asked about repatriating the body. Her application was rejected. In August 1921, determined to have her wish, Anna, her daughter and a Frenchman made an unsuccsessful nocturnal attempt to remove the body from the cemetary.

In August 1925, when all the graves in Corkscrew Cemetery were exhumed and moved to Loos British Cemetery, Anna took advantage of the shuffle to remove her son's body. Although the ground disturbance was noted by the CWGC, a ground probe determined the coffin to still be there. The CWGC did not find out about Anna's nighttime prowl until a Toronto newspaper reported the reburial.

Her son's grave is in St. James Cemetery, Toronto. He was buried with full military honours with ex-soldiers of the 58th Canadian Infantry in uniform attending the ceremony."

Page 68 mentions another incident: "Major Charles Sutcliffe, a Canadian in the Royal Flying Corps, was killed June 6, 1917 and buried in Epinoy Churchyard in France. In August 1925, a man accompanied by Sutcliffe's father had the body exhumed and taken to Canada. Major Sutcliffe is now buried in Lindsay, Ontario."

Garth

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Hi Terry:

The above stories of the two Canadian body snatchers raises a couple of questions. Who has legal jurisdiction over a CWGC cemetery, the host country or the CWGC? Has anyone ever been prosecuted for removing or attempting to remove a body from a CWGC cemetery? Thanks.

Garth

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Garth

I don't know of anyone being prosecuted for 'body snatching' from a CWGC cemetery. Those examples cited above may well be the only unsanctioned examples.

CWGC own the land on which their cemeteries stand along with the buildings, walls etc. However, any exhumation would require the appropriate local legal permissions as well as that of CWGC. These procedures will be different in each country.

As I am in charge of a cemetery in the UK in my spare time (laugh) capacity as a local councillor, I can say that an exhumation would require permission from the Secretary of State at the Home Office and permission from the cemetery owner (which would never be refused if the SoS had granted permission). We would not have any power to stop an exhumation if it was being done for legal reasons (ie criminal investigation).

In most other countries a different government office or official would have to give permission but with CWGC having far more say in the matter. I doubt that the local authorities would give permission if CWGC had refused. Effectively, I think their refusal would be a veto.

The two events noted above would not have had any official sanction at all. In the circumstances, however, I can't see Interpol sending out arrest warrents across the world!

CWGC did give permission for three Irish mutineers to be repatriated from India to Ireland as below.... But that is another story.

SEARS, Peter

Private 32781

1 Bn, Connaught Rangers

Shot 01.07.20 whilst participating in mutiny in India.

Body repatriated and re-buried 31.10.70

[Name still on Kirkee 1914-1918 Memorial, India]

SMYTH, John

Private 11264

1 Bn, Connaught Rangers

Shot 02.07.20 whilst participating in mutiny in India.

Body repatriated and re-buried 31.10.70

[Name still on Kirkee 1914-1918 Memorial, India]

Both now buried in Glasnevin Cemetery

DALY, James Joseph

Private 7144396

1 Bn, Connaught Rangers

Executed 02.11.20 for mutiny in India Age 20

Body repatriated and re-buried 01.11.70

[Name still on Kirkee 1914-1918 Memorial, India]

Buried in Tyrellspass Churchyard

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Hi Terry:

Thanks for clearing up my jurisdiction question. It appears the practice of "spiriting" bodies from CWCG cemeteries was a rare event. Again, from Norm Christie's book: "It is not known and is difficult to estimate how many bodies were removed in this fashion. CWGC records indicate only six such thefts, but appear to overlook others, for example, the famous heist of the South African Fighter Ace Captain Andrew Beauchamp-Proctor VC, DSO, MC, DFC from his original grave in England. Of the six recorded thefts (three were Canadian), four were successful."

Thanks again.

Garth

P.S. - Just how much spare time do you have? :lol:

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Spare time is about as scarce as a truthful politician!

Incidently, in the Irish cases above, CWGC were not in a strong position to stop the repatriations as they had already declared the graves 'unmaintainable' (as with many WW1 graves in India) and had the names inscribed on the appropriate memorial.

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Paul

Very briefly....

In early July 1920 there was a mutiny by members of 1 Bn, Connaught Rangers in Jullundur and Solon in India. The mutineers were protesting about British army actions in Ireland at the time.

Some mutineers were shot in the uprising and sixty-nine were later tried for mutiny (without defending officers according to Julian Pukowski's book). Fourteen were sentenced to death but only Pte James Joseph Daly (age 20) had his carried out. He was executed at Dagshai.

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  • 6 years later...

A local man Lt Anthony George Atwood Morris, 1st Bn. King's Own (Royal Lancaster) Regiment was exhumed twice. The son of well to do parents from Rugby, he lived in the Village of Elford Staffs. The WFA posted an article about him in 2008, here is a snippet.

"Morris and his men were buried in the churchyard but after the War, when the others were reburied in Meteren Military Cemetery, his parents decided to take his body home for burial. In fact, they reached Calais before learning that this was not permitted. They returned and buried their son temporarily with his men while they bought two hectares of land encompassing the spot where he was killed.

Mr and Mrs Morris built an elaborate open sided building of brick with a tiled roof and a large clock which had come from their stables in England, in which to bury their son. In due course he was moved there to his final resting place."

Full article:- Lt Anthony George Atwood Morris

So it looks like someone must have given permission for The remains to be removed before the re-burial at Meteren, but "a law" prevented the remains being removed from the country. As the remains were later exhumed and buried elsewhere in France, perhaps it was not the French who objected to the moving of bodies.

Edit:- Lt. Morris is listed on the Elford Parish Church Memorial.

Alan

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Just noticed this. I will follow up but there is a Canadian soldier who was repatriated by his mother back to Toronto. Was the subject of a recent book (2006). Will follow up with proper sources>>>

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  • 4 years later...

The book about the Canadian soldier whose body was repatriated is "The Invisible Soldier, Captain W A P Durie, his life and afterlife" by Veronica Cusack, published in Canada in 2004 by McClelland & Stewart Ltd.

The Find a grave web site records that Captain William Arthur Peel Durie was born in Ontario on 8 August 1881 and died in France on 29 December 1917 aged 36. He is buried in Block 8, plot 136 in Toronto St James's Cemetery.

"the son of Lieutenant-Colonel William Smith Durie (1813-1885), founder of the Queen's Own Rifles and Anna Peel Durie (1856-1933). He was killed in action on December 29, 1917 in the frontline trenches near Lens and was first buried in the Corkscrew British Cemetery near Lens, France. In August 1925, when all the graves in Corkscrew Cemetery were exhumed and being moved to Loos British Cemetery Captain Durie's body was "repatriated" to the St. James' Cemetery in Toronto.
William was one of very few soldiers that was repatriated, despite government efforts to keep him in France. William became the subject of a book written by Veronica Cusack titled 'The Invisible Soldier'.
William's mother, Anna, tried twice earlier to have her son returned to Canada, without success. In 1925 while the soldier's bodies were being moved from the Corkscrew Cemetery (because the landowner refused to give up land rights) and reburied in Loos British Cemetery, his mother was there. She hired some local help, they dug up his freshly buried body one night, removed his body from the coffin, placing him in another coffin. The original coffin was replaced, and the fresh dirt thrown back on top."

Next to the memorial cross (which was damaged by a fallen tree in 2012 and since restored) is a flat stone which gives details of his name and that he "volunteered for active service in 1914. Was dangerously wounded at Ypres May 1916 promoted for gallantry at Vimy Ridge Avion and Passchendaele was killed in action before Lens December 29 1917. His body was buried in the British Military Cemetery Cite St Pierre France removed to Canada and re-interred August 22 1925"

His mother published a book of poems entitled "Our absent hero, poems in loving memory of Captain William Arthur Peel Durie, 58th Battalion CEF". It is available on www.archive.org

There is a memorial tablet to him in St Thomas Church, Ontario and a wooden memorial panel in the church's baptistery. He is possibly also named on the church's memorial windows. He is named on the memorial of Toronto's Upper Canada College.

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  • 2 months later...

The book about the Canadian soldier whose body was repatriated is "The Invisible Soldier, Captain W A P Durie, his life and afterlife" by Veronica Cusack, published in Canada in 2004 by McClelland & Stewart Ltd.

The Find a grave web site records that Captain William Arthur Peel Durie was born in Ontario on 8 August 1881 and died in France on 29 December 1917 aged 36. He is buried in Block 8, plot 136 in Toronto St James's Cemetery.

"the son of Lieutenant-Colonel William Smith Durie (1813-1885), founder of the Queen's Own Rifles and Anna Peel Durie (1856-1933). He was killed in action on December 29, 1917 in the frontline trenches near Lens and was first buried in the Corkscrew British Cemetery near Lens, France. In August 1925, when all the graves in Corkscrew Cemetery were exhumed and being moved to Loos British Cemetery Captain Durie's body was "repatriated" to the St. James' Cemetery in Toronto.

William was one of very few soldiers that was repatriated, despite government efforts to keep him in France. William became the subject of a book written by Veronica Cusack titled 'The Invisible Soldier'.

William's mother, Anna, tried twice earlier to have her son returned to Canada, without success. In 1925 while the soldier's bodies were being moved from the Corkscrew Cemetery (because the landowner refused to give up land rights) and reburied in Loos British Cemetery, his mother was there. She hired some local help, they dug up his freshly buried body one night, removed his body from the coffin, placing him in another coffin. The original coffin was replaced, and the fresh dirt thrown back on top."

Next to the memorial cross (which was damaged by a fallen tree in 2012 and since restored) is a flat stone which gives details of his name and that he "volunteered for active service in 1914. Was dangerously wounded at Ypres May 1916 promoted for gallantry at Vimy Ridge Avion and Passchendaele was killed in action before Lens December 29 1917. His body was buried in the British Military Cemetery Cite St Pierre France removed to Canada and re-interred August 22 1925"

His mother published a book of poems entitled "Our absent hero, poems in loving memory of Captain William Arthur Peel Durie, 58th Battalion CEF". It is available on www.archive.org

There is a memorial tablet to him in St Thomas Church, Ontario and a wooden memorial panel in the church's baptistery. He is possibly also named on the church's memorial windows. He is named on the memorial of Toronto's Upper Canada College.

That's the book! I had just seen it a few months back but had forgotten the title. many thanks.

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  • 1 year later...

I realise that this thread is very old, however, I have just come across the repatriation of Alexander Galbraith. He was a Captain in the Ceylon Planters Rifle Corps, it would seem that he along with many (if not all) of the officers at least, of the CPRC was seconded to the Australians and was with them in Egypt in January 1915 when he was seriously injured in a car crash, he succumbed to his injuries in Egypt on 15/16 February, he is buried near Enniskerry in Ireland.

IanC

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