If Allied aircrew, soldiers or sailors had belonged to the British forces when they were killed, their graves and memorials were attended to by the British authorities and the Imperial War Graves Commission, who followed a policy of non-repatriation. However, if the dead had belonged to their own national forces, they could be repatriated after the war.
In the case of the Jespersen crew who were shot down on D-Day, the British and Canadian members of the crew lie in France. Our current information is that the only Norwegian crew member ever found was John Ernst Herlof Evensen, whose body was repatriated and is now buried at Vestre Gravlund Cemetery at Oslo.
The Norwegians are remembered on various memorials in Norway, including at the Akershus Fortress in Oslo. Jespersen Crew Memorials.
What is often not realised about the evacuation of the BEF (British Expeditionary Force) from France in June 1940 is that not everyone left from Dunkirk. Several thousand men came out from St Nazaire on the edge of western France, and amongst these was Arthur Owen Stott, later to be the Commanding Officer of the Army Graves Service in Western Europe.
Stott and his unit was evacuated only a day and a half before the sinking of the Lancastria outside St Nazaire, a horrific tragedy in which some 3,000 troops, RAF men, and civilians lost their lives. In February 1945, when CO of the 21 Army Group Graves Service, Stott would investigate a fraudulent claim for compensation concerning the Lancastria.
SEE OUR NEW PAGE: Stott and the Evacuation from France, June 1940
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…