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Remembered Today:

Procedure for dead of WW1


redorchestra
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Recently I have been visiting a lot of my local cemeteries in the Mitcham/Tooting area of South London for family history research. I'm always drawn to have a look at the war graves as they are so distinctive.

This has led me to wonder - what was the procedure for burial in the Great War? Did the families of the deceased have an option for the body to be returned to the UK, or was that something that they perhaps paid for themselves after the war ended?

I'm always struck by the amount of war graves that list the date of death as after the armistice. I'm aware that some of these perhaps are from the Russian civil war or various other conflicts, but can any other readers comment on what else might have been a cause of death for so many young people after the war ended? Did unexploded ordinance cause many casualties?

Most of the war graves in my local cemetery are immacualtely maintained, but there's one grave for an RAF pilot and it's so overgrown that you can't even read the inscription. I'm very tempted to set to work with a pair of shears myself, but I'm wondering whether it's for a reason...

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Hi red,

There are many members here expert in CWGC operations who can fill this in but as a quick answer - it was decided that no bodies of the fallen would be repatriated from the active zones. Therefore any remains in this country are for personnel who died here. The graves dated after the end of hostilities relate to service personnel who died through circumstances which could be proved to be caused by the Great War. This process is an ongoing and dynamic one.

Any grave overgrown in the fashion you describe will certainly not be a CWGC one.

Check out the story and details about the CWGC on their site HERE

Kind Regards,

SMJ

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Repatriation of dead servicemen was banned from mid-1915. Prior to that date, only about thirty British men were returned to the UK - all of them officers. This was mainly due to the fact that the relatives had to pay for any such repatriation.

After the war the ban stayed in place except for the Unknown Soldiers. Three or four men were returned to Canada illegally and clandestinely. A couple of others were returned from non-war zones and many Canadians were repatriated who died in the UK and USA - non-war zones. The ban on the repatriation of British war dead stayed in place generally until 1982. No repatriation of men who died prior to this date is permitted.

Therefore, the war graves you see in the UK (or other home country) are those that died in the UK - either of wounds, in accidents or of illness.

The war did not end on 11.11.18 as that was only an armistice. The war officially ended on 31.08.21 - the date the war was declared over by the UK Parliament. Therefore any serviceman dying between 04.08.14 and 31.08.21 inclusive is a WW1 casualty and gets a war grave. The cause of death is immaterial - KiA, DoW, illness, accident, homicide, suicide or judicial execution.

Also, you have to remember that about 20% of war graves in the UK are not marked by CWGC stones but by ordinary headstones. The relatives of a man who died in the home country were allowed to both choose the place of burial and could choose between a CWGC stone and a private memorial. CWGC is not responsible for the upkeep of the private stones but this does not alter their status as an official war grave. If the stone you mention is a CWGC stone, report it to their UK Area Office via the CWGC website.

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And a major cause of death after the Armistice was the Spanish flu pandemic.

Of course, I completely forgot about that.

Thanks for the very interesting and detailed answers. The overgrown grave to which I refer certainly looks like a CWGC one, it is exactly the same headstone. Maybe I should mention it to the people who run the cemetery first as they seem to reguarly mow the lawn, it's just this one grave has a huge bush in front of it. Perhaps if i pretend I'm a relative it might help!

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The cemetery will have an agreement with CWGC over maintenance.

I have seen many stones with bushes in front of them. Report it to CWGC and they will do something about it.

Check that it is a CWGC though. There are post-war stones supplied by the MoD which have different shaped tops to differentiate them from war graves but they look very similar to CWGC stones. CWGC is not always responsible for these Non-World War Graves.

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Thanks for that. I will check the stone soon and if it looks like a CWGC one I will let them know. Looks like someone planted a little bush there and it has got out of control, perhaps the relative who planted it is no longer around..

Now that we're on the subject, does the CWGC only deal with graves from WW1 onwards? Who has responsibility for graves from the Boer war, or from the various colonial campaigns in the later 19th century, or the Crimean war? Are these just maintained on a local basis?

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CWGC is only reponsible for Commonwelath war graves from the two world wars (04.08.14 to 31.08.21 and 03.09.39 to 31.12.47). No other war is their responsibility.

UK service graves from other wars are either the responsibility of the relatives or of the MoD. In many overseas military cemeteries with Non-World War Graves, the MoD contracts CWGC to care for the graves. CWGC is permitted to 'sell' its expertise in grave maintenance to other authorities. In these cases, CWGC is the maintenance organisation but MoD remains responsible for the graves and, in theory, could select any maintenance contractor in future.

As a matter of interest, MoD has not contracted CWGC to care for the graves from the 1982 Falklands War as they still care for them themselves. Nor does MoD or CWGC care for Korean War graves as they are in the care of the UN whose war it was (officially). CWGC were contracted by MoD to care for Boer War graves in South Africa two years ago and they are in the process of sorting their care.

You will not find the names of any of these Non-World War Graves on the CWGC website as it is not their responsibility to publish them.

Also, you will find that there are very few graves from the Crimea or many other wars pre-1900. Burying British dead was a much more casual affair in those days and not many graves were ever marked - or recorded.

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Hello, RedOrchestra. Which is your local cemetery?

My local cemetery is London Road, Mitcham.

I recently visited the very large Mitcham Road cemetery too and noticed there too there's quite a few overgrown war graves. I feel a bit sorry for them as they obviously don't have anyone living to care about them. There's plenty of other overgrown graves in there, but it seems more important to me to look after the grave of a 18/19 year old who died on active service than someone who passed away from old age.

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Maintenace will almost certainly be contracted by CWGC to Croydon Borough Council.

If you think that more work is needed, please contact CWGC's UK Area Office and they will get on to it. They will probably send the area inspector to have a look and decide what action is needed - or simply chivvy the council.

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Maintenace will almost certainly be contracted by CWGC to Croydon Borough Council.

If you think that more work is needed, please contact CWGC's UK Area Office and they will get on to it. They will probably send the area inspector to have a look and decide what action is needed - or simply chivvy the council.

Ok I'll do that when I get a chance. I don't mean to knock the work of the CWGC at all, I think they do a great job.

The cemetery down the end of my road has a lot of war graves, and at least 20 of them are all the same date - 16th April 1941. I've looked into it a bit and apparently that was one of the heaviest bombing raids on Britain in the war. Nearly all of them are Home Guard.

Anyone know of any good resources for information on blitz damage, or would local newspapers be my best bet?

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There's a book about WW2 bombing damage in and around Wimbledon called 'Safe as Houses', but I'm not sure if it extends to Mitcham. I'll have a look next time I see a copy. I am just a mile or two up the road from you, in Merton Abbey.

Mick

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There's a book about WW2 bombing damage in and around Wimbledon called 'Safe as Houses', but I'm not sure if it extends to Mitcham. I'll have a look next time I see a copy. I am just a mile or two up the road from you, in Merton Abbey.

Mick

Oh cool. I keep meaning to try and get hold of the bloke at Merton Abbey Mills to see if I can have a look at the remains of the Abbey underneath the road. I read about it in that book 'Underground London'. My girlfriend said you used to be able to see it but it's all boarded up now, due to vandals I guess..

Thanks for the tip about the book, I'll see if I can get hold of it from UCL library as I work there. Come to think of it, I remember seeing some massive book with maps of bomb damage in London being catalogued once.

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The London Blitz Then and Now is well worth reading. I think it is in three volumes, published by After the Battle publications.

I do not know if it is still in print, but I expect local libraries carry the title.

Ian

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