The Dutch tradition of laying flowers on all the individual graves in a cemetery began very soon after the war. The photograph here, taken at the Arnhem-Oosterbeek cemetery, was probably taken in 1946 or 1947.
In 1947, The Times recorded that ‘on one day recently […] over 30,000 Dutch people visited the graves of the fallen of Arnhem’. It added:
On occasions it is alleged that graves are cared for by those whose real interest is in the reward of cigarettes and food sent from England, but one has only to mark the many graves of the unknown that have been adopted to see without a doubt that this cynical charge applies only to a few isolated instances.
Special Correspondent, ‘The Dead of the Empire: Work of Army and Imperial War Graves Commission: Ideals and Achievement’, The Times, 11 November 1947.
Further to yesterday’s post about Colonel Stott and possible photographs of him at work, the second photograph, also in the Gelders Archief, shows Stott in the very early days of the ARNHEM-OOSTERBEEK CEMETERY. He is deep in conference with Captain J T Long, of 37 Graves Registration Unit.
This cemetery was developed with the full cooperation of the local authorities, and a remarkable pair of letters show the cordial relationship between the authorities and the Army Graves Service: CORRESPONDENCE.
Colonel Stott, the Commanding Officer of the Army Graves Service in Western Europe was in many ways the most influential figure of all in how the Second World War British military dead were identified, buried and honoured. Besides the work for soldiers, he was of key significance in the work on behalf of missing RAF aircrew.
Stott was a self-effacing man and so far we have not traced any official photographs of him performing his duties. However, there are two photographs in the Gelders Archief in Holland which are 99% certain to include Stott. The first, being posted today, shows him at the commemorations for the Arnhem dead, which took place on 25 September 1945. Stott’s attendance at the commemorations is mentioned in his war diary.
The liberated countries provided the most immense amount of help in finding, identifying, and honouring dead British soldiers, sailors, and airmen. This new article gives a number of examples of their invaluable contribution: The Liberated Countries and the War Dead
This is a new article, looking at the huge difference in identification rates between the American and British programmes for the dead. Unlike the Americans, who ran a joint programme for soldiers and airmen, the British Army and the RAF had two somewhat separate agendas, reflecting the RAF’s intense concentration on finding and identifying its missing. Identification Rates – American and British
Robert Whitley was an Air gunner from Canada, flying with a Wellington crew of 419 Squadron. He and his crew were lost when their aircraft crashed at Argenteuil in France on 30 May 1942. They were buried as ‘unknowns’.
When the MRES sought to establish who the men were in the graves, they had only a few clues to go on. In what was a highly unusual move for the time, the Air Ministry Casualty Branch gave the London Press information about these clues. The London Press, including the Daily Mirror, duly ran the story on 18 September 1945. What happened next was extraordinary…
When the John Conybeare Landon & the Aspin Crew page was published yesterday, I had a lapse of concentration and wrote that Hotton Cemetery was in Germany. Someone kindly pointed out the mistake, which I at once corrected.
However, it is clear that somewhere in the back of my brain there was a thought process at work. In the normal course of events, the Aspin crew would have been relocated (the official term was ‘concentrated) from their original graves in Germany to the nearest British cemetery in Germany. This was official British policy and rigorously enforced. My brain was clearly rambling off on its own about the mystery as to why the crew had ended up being buried in Belgium.
This morning, looking at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission burial records, all has become clear. Before being transferred to Hotton, the crew had been buried at the United States Military Cemetery at Neuville-en-Condroz in Belgium, and they were only moved by the British in July 1949.
The likeliest explanation is this. The crew were originally buried by the Germans near the crash site in Germany. However, without British permission they were disinterred by the Americans after the war and taken to the American CIP (Central Identification Point) at Strasbourg, which failed to identify them. The bodies were then reburied in the United States Military Cemetery at Neuville-en-Condroz in Belgium, all or some of them labelled as ‘unknowns’.
The Americans had a tendency to remove bodies on the grounds that they ‘might’ be American. This was well known to the British, and there were a number of notable cases where a great deal of trouble had to be gone to in order to retrieve the bodies. On the Neuville-en-Condroz list on which the Aspin crew appears (by reference number, not name) there are other British bodies which were also relocated to Hotton.
This is a complicated subject, and sometime in the couple of weeks I will be adding a page on how the American and the British graves services interacted, often to mutual benefit, but sometimes in a way which created confusion, as in the case of the Aspin crew.