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Missing

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Guest Kobaaa

I've been researching one of my ancestors who died in the Great war. He was killed during the first battle of Gaza on 26 March 1917. He has no known grave but is commemorated on the Jerusalem memorial.

My understanding has always been that the "missing" on the Western Front were largely those who were literally blown apart by shellfire, and in the case of Ypres lost in the mud. I was puzzled, tough, by the relatively high numbers of missing in the battles of Gaza:

1st battle 400 dead, 200 missing

2nd battle 509 killed, 1576 missing

(from "The Last Crusade" by Anthony Bruce)

How could there be such large numbers of "missing" when the shellfire would presumably have been nothing like as intensive as on the Western Front and the British troops were advancing over fairly flat, dry, open terrain?

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Tom Morgan

In the context of Memorials to the Missing, the word "missing" means only that the soldier has no known grave.

There is no implication as to how he died or whether or not there was a body to be found. Not all of the "missing" were blown to bits or disappeared from the face of the earth. (it's been calculated that about half of the 73,000 British "missing" from the Somme, 1916, do have graves, because they must be buried in the 35,000 (approx) "unknown" graves in cemeteries in the area. But they're not known, identified graves.

There are very many soldiers who were killed, in the sight of their comrades, and whose bodies were buried in small burial grounds or isolated battlefield graves. If such a grave couldn't be found later, then the soldier will be commemorated on a Memorial to the Missing.

Hope this helps.

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AOK4

I agree but there are two meanings of "missing": 1. are casualties of which the fate is unknown 2. are soldiers who have no known grave.

I agree however that it is difficult to understand why there are so many missing (casualties of which the fate is unknown) in the casualties of the battles of Gaza. The high number of missing during battles on the Western Front (Somme or Flanders) is understandable because the shelling was so intense and the state of the ground was so bad, one could loose sight of his men, however in a open landscape without that intense shelling?

Jan

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Paul Reed

In my own experience of researching the 1/4th Royal Sussex in the Gaza battles; all of their dead for one attack on 26th March 1917 are on the Jerusalem Memorial. One reason for this was recorded in a first hand account which mentioned that men were buried on the battlefield and once the area was vacated, locals came in and robbed the graves - stealing boots and clothing, and other items! (presumably also dog-tags?)

These seems to have been a problem in two world wars in the desert; my father has often spoken of it from his experiences in North Africa in WW2.

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rob carman

Kobaa,

Gaza I and II were Turkish victories. So when the attacks were called off, the dead from MG and rifle fire may have been been buried by the Turks before the local climate led to their decomposition. Wavell in his account of the Palestine Campaign cites an inflated claim by the Turks to have buried over 1500 Allied dead after Gaza I.

Regarding the "fairly flat, dry, open terrain", Wavell describes the land south of Gaza through which the infantry advanced as being a grove of up to 10 foot tall cactus plants ("biowire"). He also points out that the infantry attacked the centre of the Turkish from including the stronglty defended and Umberela Hill. At Gaza III the Turkish trenches at Umberalla Hill were protected by a minefield that was repsonsible for wiping out an entire wave (number not specified) of men from the 163 Brigade/54th Div.

I don't know that these account for your observation but they may help do so.

Rob Carman.

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Somme1916

Also a lot of the UK troops that were killed had their paybooks and ID disked removed by the fellow soldiers so they could take them back to the unit command post to show who died during an action. This left many bodies on the field or in front line graves that were latter recovered or moved with no ID information other what was on their uniforms (collar dogs, cap badges, for pre tin hat days, personal jewelry etc).

Another reason why the MIA's were so high is that many UK ID disk were made from pressed paper with only the soldier's information written in ink. You can imagine what happens when that lays out in the weather for two or three months. The pay book would be a little more durable but given a little more time and the info within will be gone as well.

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CROONAERT
Another reason why the MIA's were so high is that many UK ID disk were made from pressed paper with only the soldier's information written in ink.

The fibre discs with handwritten details were only a "stopgap" disc issued for a very short period.The British and Empire armies went to war in 1914 with the "1906 pattern" aluminium disc (just one). By mid 1915 they were issued with a single,round red fibre disc with stamped details(somewhere in between here,the handwritten disc made its (brief) appearance). In mid to late 1916,soldiers were issued with the "1916 pattern" discs that are now so familiar (one round,red fibre and the other lozenge shaped green/brown fibre). Those previously issued with the single red disc were ,around Sept..1916,also issued with the lozenge disc.This pattern stayed with us untill the early 1970's.

Most soldiers also wore "private purchase" unofficial tags,usually in the form of an identity bracelet.

I have many examples of the different types of disc worn in the Great War,so if anyone would like to see anything in particular,email me and I'll send a photo.(I've also got copies from the Army Orders giving details about the British types).

Dave.

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Joe Sweeney

Dave,

I'm curious about your source for the pressed paper (fibre) discs with hand written detail? I've never come across anything like that before.

I'm very familar with the Army Orders, Priced Vocabulary descriptions, and General Routine Orders concerning the Aluminum tags, the Red Disc (Vulcanized Asbestos Fibre) and the 1916 Disc Identity No. 1 (green Vulcanized asbestos Fibre) and Disc Identity No 2 (Red Vulcanized asbestos Fibre).

I have never come across a reference to discs with handwritten details. Curiously I do have reference to ID 1/8" marking stamps being issued to a wider audience in the field in Aug 1915 with no reason. My assumption was only that retagging was very common place so more stamp kits were needed.

Curiuos what the reference is to handwritten ID tags?

Joe Sweeney

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CROONAERT

Joe.

There's no actual "reference" to these handwritten discs as they were,for want of a better description,"unofficial" replacements for the aluminium tags.The fibre discs were becoming commonplace and were being used as replacements for lost aluminium ones or even as an extra disc at a time when the stamping kits were unavailable (or the available ones were unable to cope with demand).

I have a pair in my collection which consists of the aluminium disc and a handwritten red fibre disc.These were sent home as souvenirs when this particular soldier received his stamped pair of fibre tags.On the back of the handwritten disc,he has written a list of where he had served up to that date.

I've also got a "stamped" disc on which you can see evidence of handwriting under the stamping.This leads me to think that maybe some soldiers got blank discs and wrote the details on them temporarily until they could be stamped.

A mention of handwritten discs is on "The Forgotten Battlefield" documentary,(which I believe is to be shown again soon?).On this ,it is erroneously assumed that they were an official pattern for 1915.

Like yourself,I've never come across an "official" document mentioning these discs,but I've heard mention in old soldiers tales and own a couple myself (one of which belonged to my Great Uncle).All in all,they must be the rarest of the British WW1 discs.

If you want to see one,drop me a line.

Dave

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Joe Sweeney

Dave,

Just interested in some of the more odd marked Discs.

The image below is to an odd No 2 disc to a Labour Corps member. Seems it was possible to run out of room. Even stranger his No1 disc contains far fewer markings.

1416121.jpg

I get a headache reading this but it belonged to a Pte. Brayshaw, 548586

, 915(?) Area Employment Co. MB (?), Labour Corps, Church of England.

Joe Sweeney

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CROONAERT
At Gaza III the Turkish trenches at Umberalla Hill were protected by a minefield that was repsonsible for wiping out an entire wave (number not specified) of men from the 163 Brigade/54th Div.

I've heard of barbed wire,trees and other items being booby trapped with explosives,grenades and the like but I was unaware of the use of mines (apart from the large ,dug,landmines of the Messines Ridge etc. variety) and minefields in the Great War,having always assumed that they were a 1920's/30's invention.

Can anyone confirm their use 1914-18 and,if so,can anyone let me know what type was used? Are there any references that I could access that show the particular models?

Thanks,

Dave.

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Ralph J. Whitehead

Dave, The various regimental histories of the XIV Reserve Corps make reference to the use of 'contact mines' near la Boisselle and Beaumont-Hamel by the Germans and the British. They were placed at locations in areas where enemy patrols were active as well as in trenches where enemy raids were expected. They do not describe the particular manufacture of the mines but they were definitely designed as anti-personnel mines.

I also have a phot somewhere that shows an anti-tank mine being prepared by a German soldier. In this case it was a medium size artillery shell buried with the fuze near the surface. A wooden plate with a hard wire trigger was placed over the fuze head. The heavy weight of a tank would compress the wire onto the fuze and detonate the mine. This was used in the field as well as along roads where obstacles were designed to steer tanks toward the mines.

Ralph

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CROONAERT

Thanks Ralph.

That clears it up.

So ,they weren't "mines" as such (as became familiar during WW2 and beyond),more like "booby traps" using items of ordnance (shells,grenades,blocks of explosives with percussion detonators or pressure switches ,etc) intended for other purposes.I seem to recall the Viet-Minh and Viet-Cong being dab hands at this in the 1950s/60s.

Dave.

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Ralph J. Whitehead

Your welcome Dave, I believe you are correct when you stated the mines were not manufactured and used like the ones in WWII. It would seem to me that these items were probably locally produced using whatever items were at hand. In the case of the German troops it was probably something prepared and placed by the Pioneer Troops. Either way they were effective when triggered.

Ralph

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CROONAERT

I remember reading somewhere (don't ask me for the source - I can't remember) of the use of sea-mines on land. I think that this was by the Germans in the Nieupoort/Yser front area.They were semi buried as an anti-tank measure.

I'm doubtful of the truth of this as I think that the cataclysmic result of a tank running over one of these would give a good description of the term "overkill"!

However,seeing as anti-tank mines were used ,on stakes,as coastal defences by the Germans,Japanese and ,to an extent, the British during during WW2,it may be true.

Dave.

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rob carman

Dave, Ralph,

Wavell (1928) says, "...the Turks had laid land mines which exploded by contact...". This seems to match what you have already suggested.

Rob.

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