Following on yesterday’s post on the war graves at Bergen is the page O Valiant Hearts which I have just added to my own site, PER ARDUA: The Air War and Beyond. A quotation from this romantic and poignant hymn was used for the epitaph for Arthur North, who is buried at Bergen, and it reminded me of another RAF grave, that of Ernest Deverill. See this page: O Valiant Hearts
What led me to David O’Connell was acquiring the beautiful battered old photograph of his grave, taken soon after his burial in January 1945. Despite the deep snow and the immense disruption caused by war, people had found a huge number of flowers to decorate his grave. He must have been very highly thought of, either personally or in a symbolic capacity as a member of the liberating British forces.
All officers serving in the MRES were volunteers. Importantly, they were also surviving ex-aircrew who felt a strong degree of involvement in the task. Amongst their number was Harold Wilson, who had flown with 97 Squadron of the PATH FINDER FORCE during the war.
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.