A further installment in Geoffrey Cotterell’s letters about the search for his missing brother, Anthony. The picture on this post is of the memorial plaque affixed to the former Post Office at Brummen, outside which, on 23 September 1944, the SS shot into a truckload of British prisoners. Several were wounded, two dying at the scene. The exact nature of Anthony’s wounds were a subject of intense speculation because his family were hoping that he had been able to survive them.
This latest extract from the letters shows Geoffrey going for the first time to Brummen, to the scene of the shooting, which had occurred just over one year earlier.
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 Mass Funerals at Cambridge, 22 December 1943
Anthony Cotterell’s disappearance after the battle of Arnhem, when he was shot and seriously injured by the SS whilst an unarmed prisoner of war, became the focus of extensive war crime investigations. Researching what happened to Anthony was my first real foray into what happened with missing British servicemen. It is a uniquely well-documented case not only because the war crime files still exist, but also because Anthony’s brother, Geoffrey, who was a writer like his brother, wrote a long sequence of letters to his parents about the search.
I am serialising extracts from these letters on this website because they give such a unique view of the conditions in Europe just after the war, conditions which formed the backdrop to the Army Graves work and the research carried out for the missing, both Army and RAF.
The image above shows Geoffrey (left) at Brummen, at the house of the Tjeenk-Willinks, in 1946. This was within walking distance of the place where his brother had been shot in September 1944.
Below are the links for the pages about the two brothers and the first installment of the letters, which open just as Geoffrey has left England in October 1945.
The Cotterell Brothers
Geoffrey Cotterell Letters – 22-25 October 1945
There is, therefore, a complete official service designed to secure for you and to tell you all discoverable news about your relative. This official service is also a very human service, which well understands the anxiety of relatives and will spare no effort to relieve it.
This new page shows the wartime leaflet which was given to relatives anxiously awaiting news of their loved one who was missing.
The aim of the British Graves Service was as far as possible to treat enemy combatants equally. However, this did not mean that they were buried with the Allied dead. German plots were created, which used the same style of temporary cross and lettering as in the Allied plots, as in this image of an unknown German cemetery.
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
There were countless official documents regulating and recording the work which was done on behalf of the missing and dead.
This page contains a small selection, to which more will be added in time. The four included are: an official permit issued by the Belgian government to allow the British units to carry out their work; one of the cemetery plans which was used when creating the burial grounds; and two pages of an identification details form used by the RAF when trying to name missing airmen.