Missing Men Advice

During the war there were some attempts to present the three British Services as having a joint policy, for instance the government pamphlet issued in the names of all three, Advice to the Relative of a Man who is Missing. This pamphlet described the procedure by which notification was received that a man was a prisoner of war, and what efforts were made to find him if no such news was received.

The leaflet warned relatives not to try to glean information from enemy broadcasts because of their use for propaganda purposes, and said that ‘the official listeners’ never missed any name included in such broadcasts but passed all such information ‘to the Service Department concerned’. The leaflet concluded:

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.

The impression of unity and common policy which the pamphlet presented did not reflect what was happening in reality. Behind the scenes there was not only lack of unity but even policies which directly contradicted one another. Probably the most notable example of this concerned the British Red Cross. In late 1941 the War Office fell out with the British Red Cross. It disliked the harmonious relationship which was continued by the Air Ministry and the Admiralty with the charity, and there are suggestions in some of its reports that the Army would have liked to enforce its own viewpoint on the other two Services.


Government leaflet, Advice to the Relative of a Man who is Missing, not obviously dated but perhaps March 1944 (‘3/44’ appears in a string of letters and numbers). Certainly this leaflet appears to be a successor to that issued in July 1940, after Dunkirk, which is mentioned in P G Cambray and G G B Briggs (Compilers), Red Cross and St. John: The Official Record of the Humanitarian Services of the War Organisation of the British Red Cross Society and the Order of St John of Jerusalem, 1939-1947 (published at 14 Grosvenor Crescent, London, SW1, 1949), p.344.

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