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PhilB

Buried where they fall - or at home

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PhilB

The recent posting of photos of American soldiers` graves (in the USA) made me think. Looking at the graves of US Civil War dead helps you feel close to the events of the war, but so does looking at the graves of dead from later foreign wars. In Britain, we don`t have this option. We can`t see graves from wars which took place in Britain, apart from an odd mass grave, and victims of foreign wars, apart from a few died at home and hidden away in corners of cemeteries, are not here. I wonder if this affects the attitude of our people towards the dead. Personally, I knew nothing about WW1 or the sacrifices made till I was 30ish and I didn`t see a war grave till I was 40ish. Would things have been different had the dead been buried in UK? Might the national attitude towards wars be different? Phil B

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DaveBrigg

A Tyne Cot in London? I imagine train loads of coffins arriving in Southampton every day would have changed attitudes in 1916, although of course, nearly half of the casualties were never found or identified.

Our village cemetery has a couple of war graves (WWII) and there can be few places without a memorial of some sort, be it a plaque in the church or cross in the village square. In Brigg cemetery there are dozens of war graves, some WWI and many from WWII bomber crews. At least those men buried in Flanders are with their comrades.

I did notice on a trip to the States that the graves of all men who fought in the US army, even those who survived to die of old age, were decorated with a small flag on 4th July. I don't know if this is a widespread practice.

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John_Hartley
Would things have been different had the dead been buried in UK? Might the national attitude towards wars be different?

IMO, yes, to both questions.

I start from a point of view that says politics was at the heart of the decisions to bury the dead aboard. I also take the view that politics forms the basis for much of the style of official remembrance we have in the UK.

It would, frankly, have been a propaganda disaster for the government if large numbers of bodies were returned to the UK for burial whilst the war was continuing. It would not have been the ideal recruitjng medium for every community to have a constant stream of funeral processions, together with a growing number of headstones.

Similarly the political consequences of re-patriating hundreds of thousands of bodies in the immediate post-war period are pretty obvious. The scale of the loss made it almost inevitable that post-war remembrance would focus on a totally biased and fallacious supposition that the dead were "glorious" and their deaths, therefore, were worthwhile.

John

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Guest geoff501

Reading The Times in the archive. The issue for Monday 3rd July 1916 mentions in one report a great battle, 1000 yds captured over a 7 mile front, many prisoners taken by the British and French (a figure was given but I cannot remember exact). Not much is said about the fallen.

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Charles Fair

I think probably yes to both questions.

I start from a point of view that says politics was at the heart of the decisions to bury the dead aboard.

As well as the sheer cost and the logistical difficulties of bringing back so many dead.

The scale of the loss made it almost inevitable that post-war remembrance would focus on a totally biased and fallacious supposition that the dead were "glorious" and their deaths, therefore, were worthwhile.

But I think many relatives of the dead did believe that their deaths were somehow not pointless. It was the one small shred of comfort that they might have been able to take. The language of "glorious dead" etc. may have helped them to avoid thinking of the awful reality of the deaths that they suffered.

As a case in point my grandmother lost her fiancee on 10/7/1916 and then her younger brother on 31/7/1916. My father (now in his 80s) is adamant that she believed that their deaths were part of a greater cause and this helped her to cope. Not that she ever forgot either man: she married my grandfather in September 1917, but the fiancee's picture hung in their bedroom throughout their marriage and after until her death in the 1970s.

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John_Hartley
The language of "glorious dead" etc. may have helped them to avoid thinking of the awful reality of the deaths that they suffered.

Exactly.

All propaganda, if it is to succeed, must have a basis in fact and stike a chord with the audience. I think this was a cracker.

John

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Clive Maier
... All propaganda, if it is to succeed, must have a basis in fact and stike a chord with the audience. I think this was a cracker.

It was memorably savaged by Wilfred Owen in Dulce et Decorum Est.

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est

Pro patria mori.

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Roxy

Notwithstanding the differences in scale of the Great War, Britain had been fighting throughout the world over the previous couple of hundred years; was there a policy of repatriation then? I suspect that if you could afford to have your loved ones brought home then you would have; if not then they would have been buried where they lay. From New Zealand to India and America to Spain. However, whatever was practiced previously, the financial cost of repatriation of the fallen of the Great War must, in my opinion, have resulted in political influence over the decision to inter the dead in the theatre of operations.

Roxy

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PhilB

The financial cost doesn`t seem prohibitive if the will is there. They had to be put in coffins and buried anyway, so it`s only the transport to UK that`s added. Negligible compared to the millions of tons of hay that were paid for and carted over for unused cavalry, for example. I think the prospect of a British Arlington (where would that have been?) as the legacy of our political and military establishment of the time was sufficient to make sure it never happened. But if it had?

Of course, the French didn`t have the option but their ossuaries made sure the dead were not glorified Phil B

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Richard Fisher

An interesting topic as within our village churchyard, we have a CWGC grave to a Great War soldier of the 1st Bn Wiltshire Regiment. I have never looked into it further as to why he was there but his parents were from the village (and I know some of his family today). My only presumption is that he would have died of wounds while convalessing at home?

If anybody is interested, the details are:

Name: MORSE

Initials: F

Nationality: United Kingdom

Rank: Private

Regiment/Service: Wiltshire Regiment

Unit Text: 1st Bn

Age: 27

Date of Death: 31/08/1916

Service No: 7846

Additional information: Son of Mr. and Mrs. J. Morse, of Lower Wanborough, Swindon.

Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead

Cemetery: WANBOROUGH (ST. ANDREW) CHURCHYARD

Regards

Richard

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John_Hartley

Richard

Interestingly, Morse isn't mentioned in Soldiers Died in the Great War so I can't check his death. This is possibly because he had been discharged from the army some considerable time before death.

John

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Terry Denham

Richard

He may have died from wounds, illness or in an accident anywhere in the UK - or, as John said, he died after discharge.

Relatives were allowed, at their own expense, to bury their loved ones where they wished if they died in the UK - hence, many brought them to their home churchyards/cemeteries.

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DaveBrigg

I've seen pictures of mobile embalmers operating behind the lines in the US civil war; it was also possible to buy air-tight coffins in which to transport your loved one home. In the Great War, as far as logistics were concerned, many trains must have returned to the coast empty after having delivered their load of supplies to the front, so I can't imagine that transport was a problem.

A more grisly reason for not returning British dead would have been the problems with recovery and identification of bodies. What could be done for those killed by shellfire, whose remains were collected in a sandbag? How do you transport home someone who has lain in no-man's land for nearly a year? And would the practice extend to Empire troops?

In respect of private Morse, the two casualties I'm researching who are buried locally both died of illness in late 1918, whilst training. One man had just turned 18, and died of pneumonia a week after joining the navy as a stoker.

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PhilB

This wasn`t really part of the original post, which was not whether repatriation was desirable or practicable, but whether it would have changed our attitudes. However, as in many threads, it`s an interesting sideline.

Airtight containers would have been available and, as you say, transport doesn`t seem to have been a problem. Bodies which had lain out for a long time don`t seem much of a problem either, or badly mutilated bodies so long as containers are sealed. As for the colonials, that would be up to their governments, but the same remarks apply. Bodies are currently returned here and to the USA whatever their state. Phil B

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AndyHollinger

I think there is an emotional issues .... resting where they've fallen and the propaganda thing about all those bodies coming home. I don't know, myself. I think it might be wanting to spend eternity among my brother soldiers ... maybe ...

It does make it strange, though to see graves of Brits all over the world. But sometimes they are more dramatic where they are ... the two Grenadiers at Concord Bridge are very impressive ...

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