Inclusion in the National Commemorative Programme

With regards to the Second World War, the British deemed themselves responsible for the burial and commemoration of all service people who died between 3 September 1939 and 31 December 1947 whilst serving in a Commonwealth military force or a specified auxiliary organisation.

Included were service people who died after being discharged if their death was caused by their wartime service. The date for inclusion was set for two and a half years after the war ended in Europe, partly to allow for the inclusion of such deaths and partly because demobilisation took so long. A similarly extended date had been set for the First World War: 31 August 1921.

In North-West Europe, eligibility for inclusion in the national commemorative programme was not automatic for civilian personnel who had died supporting the war effort or had been involved in the subsequent occupation of Germany. For example, Lieutenant Colonel Stott was advised by the War Office on 8 November 1945: ‘that the graves of “Civilian dockyard personnel employed overseas by the Admiralty” should not be regarded as “war graves”.’[1]

However, eligibility did extend to other civilians belonging to certain organisations, and a long list of these was held by Stott; it included ENSA (Entertainments National Service Association), the BBC, the British Red Cross Society, the Salvation Army and various other religious organisations, together with war reporters and war artists.[2]

Also eligible, whether their families wished it or not, were the dead of other nationalities who had served with the British forces. This was a policy which caused great distress, and in 1947 the French, Belgian and Dutch Ministers of the Interior asked Stott to have the matter specially reconsidered. Stott applied to the War Office for clarification, telling them:

To date, I have refused all applications since the policy is that foreigners, whatever their nationality may be, who have served in the British Forces are treated exactly as all other member of the British Forces, and so they are not eligible for repatriation to their native countries for reburial.

What complicated the situation was that foreigners who had service numbers issued by their own country’s forces were eligible for repatriation, and it was only those who had British service numbers who were not. The particularly tangled case which had prompted Stott to write concerned a Belgian soldier.

The two sons of a well-known Belgian family (not that the standing of the family matters) managed to get to England in June 1940. One joined the Belgian Brigade, and the other joined the British Forces. Both were killed and buried in Holland during the 1944-45 operations, and we have not yet succeeded in making the family understand why we cannot grant their application for the body of the son who served in the British Forces to be repatriated. The family contends (as do all others) that the two sons joined the fighting forces only in order to take their part in the invasion of Europe and the defeat of the enemy, and that they never had any intention of making the fighting services their career.[3]

Stott asked for a formal declaration of the correct policy, which was duly provided – in very terse form – by the War Office. This reiterated the policy exactly as Stott had stated it, and added:

If any foreign government wishes to obtain an alteration to this rule in any special case, then they must apply through the normal diplomatic channels.[4]

Stott duly passed this message on in very polite letters in their own languages to the Ministers of the Interior concerned. It is not known what happened to the Belgian brother who had belonged to the British forces because Stott does not mention his name.

The ruling on foreign nationals in the British forces had an echo in a similar policy which governed the burial of the enemy dead. This included not only the German military, but also those who had been forced to work for the German war machine. In one instance in late October 1944, Stott asked the War Office to confirm the policy for the burial of Russian civilians who had been workers for the Organisation Todt.[5] Because the Organisation Todt was considered to be a subsidiary organisation of the German Army, the particular Russian about whom Stott was writing had been buried as a Prisoner of War ‘in an Enemy plot’.[6] Stott asked for confirmation that this was the right policy, and this was duly confirmed by the War Office on 2 November 1944.[7]

[1] TNA, WO 171/3926, 21 Army Group HQ, GR&E, War Diary, January-December 1945, entry for 8 November 1945.

[2] TNA, 171/8653, BAOR HQ, GR&E, War Diary, January to June 1946, appendices for January, Appendix G1, Lieutenant Colonel Stott, ‘Eligibility for burial in Military Cemeteries’, 15 January 1946.

[3] TNA, WO 267/607, BAOR HQ, Western Europe Graves Service Directorate, Quarterly Historical Report, quarter ending 30 September 1947, appendices to September, Appendix K, Lieutenant Colonel Stott, ‘Repatriation – Allied Dead to their Native Countries for Re-burial’, memorandum, 30 August 1947.

[4] Ibid, attached copy of A.G.13 reply to DD, GR&E Directorate Western Europe, 5 September 1947.

[5] TNA, WO 171/186, 21 Army Group HQ, GR&E, War Diary, September-December 1944, entry for 20 October 1944.

[6] Ibid, Appendix G, Lieutenant Colonel Stott to A.G.13, 20 October 1944.

[7] Ibid, but main diary, entry for 2 November 1944.