The RAF and the Army

The RAF’s work for airmen who were missing or had been killed could not have taken place without the British Army.

By an agreement made between the Air Ministry and the War Office, the RAF was not responsible for the exhumations, registrations or concentration of its own dead.

Until September 1948, these tasks in Western Europe were carried out by the Army Graves Service, and the RAF only took them over when the Graves Service was disbanded.

The RAF’s Missing Research and Enquiry (MRES) units were never intended to be permanent, and they too gradually disbanded as their task was accomplished. The last one was disbanded in September 1949 at the same time as MRES HQ.

A considerably smaller unit was then set up, the RAF Graves Service, which was comparatively short-lived, leaving by the end of 1950 only two Missing Research Officers on the Continent to follow up on various outstanding cases. These officers were Flight Lieutenant Hughes in Berlin and Flight Lieutenant Massé, who had a dual role as Liaison Officer working with the Americans at Liège and the Imperial War Graves Commission at Arras. 

The RAF thus were in sole charge of the work on behalf of their dead for only two years. As a 1950 RAF report on the work for the missing put it:

From the start the RAF Missing Research and Enquiry Service worked in close cooperation with the Army Graves Service. The Army was responsible for the exhumation and concentration of graves into British Military Cemeteries, and for their registration. A Royal Air Force or Dominions Air Force officer was normally present at the exhumation to help in the identification of bodies known or believed to belong to one of the Air Forces. […] The work was carried out in accordance with the principles agreed between the Air Ministry and the War Office.

TNA, AIR2/10031, Air Ministry Casualty Branch, unsigned, ‘Missing Research – Origin and Development’, report, date stamped 29 March 1950.