Two of the posts/pages from my PER ARDUA site last year, while working on the 75th Anniversary commemorations for Black Thursday, 16-17 December 1943.
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.
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.
The Aspin crew are buried at Hotton in Belgium (their graves having been relocated from Germany after the war). All crew losses are tragic, but in the case of John Conybeare Landon his death was one of three wartime tragedies which were suffered by the Landon family. What also makes the crew’s story so memorable is the testimony which was given about the loss of the crew by a Frenchman, a forced labourer in Germany, who witnessed the crash in February 1944.
The cross featured is to the memory of William Alexander McVie, a Hampden pilot, who died on 16 May 1941, near this spot, and who is now buried at Amsterdam New Eastern Cemetery.
As part of our Memorials series, a page has been set up telling the background story to the McVie cross.
Accurate post-war confirmation of the graves of British servicemen could be an extremely complicated and difficult task. Cemetery records were not always correct, and sometimes only an exhumation could solve difficult cases. Even then, an answer was not necessarily forthcoming. The complex story of some British graves at Enschede in Holland illustrates this point perfectly.
After an RAF grave had been identified and registered by an Army Graves Registration unit, a temporary wooden (or sometimes steel) cross was erected.
If the grave was a communal one (because the inhabitants of it had not yet been individually identified), a communal marking was made.
For details of the markers for one particular crew, that of WILLIAM DARBY COATES, follow the link.
RAF losses in North-West Europe began on only the second day of the war.
The funeral above, conducted with full military honours, took place in October 1939. It is thought to be that of Percy Edmund Boyce Sproston, from 144 Squadron, who was killed on 29 September 1939.
During the war, German burial methods ran the whole gamut from the meticulously respectful to the lazily slipshod, the latter style becoming increasingly prevalent as the bombing campaign became more intensive and the war was gradually lost.
More information on the German treatment of the RAF dead will be added at a later date.