British Programme for the Military Dead

After D-Day, 6 June 1944, the British began an immense operation in Western Europe – on behalf of all the many nationalities serving with the British forces – to find out what had happened to the missing, and to honorably bury or commemorate the dead.

This care also extended to enemy soldiers, who as far as possible were treated as equals.

The work was carried out by the British Army and the RAF before the Imperial War Graves Commission (now the CWGC) became involved.

OTHER COUNTRIES INVOLVED

  • The Americans were running a similar programme over much the same territory, and there was a large degree of overlap.
  • The liberated countries provided an immense amount of help, an extension of the care with which they had looked after the graves and relics during the war.
  • The Soviet Union, had reciprocal arrangements with the British, but increasingly the beginning of the Cold War made work extremely difficult in the eastern parts of Europe.

 

WAR CRIMES 

  • Evidence of war crimes was sometimes discovered during the course of the Army and RAF’s exhumation and identification work.
  • By late 1945, the various war crimes units which had operated with 21 Army Group, by then known as the BAOR, the British Army of the Rhine, had been merged to form the War Crimes Group (NWE), which was located at Bad Oeynhausen in Germany, the headquarters of the BAOR.
  • All evidence of war crimes discovered by the RAF’s Missing Research and Enquiry Service (the MRES) or the Army Graves Service was reported to these authorities.
Flying Officer Jack Steward Nott
Flying Officer Jack Steward Nott, RAAF, murdered at Tilburg in Holland, 9 July 1944. From the trial papers, National Archives, Kew.

 

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RAF Bomber Command

For anyone who is interested in RAF Bomber Command, this website will provide some of the answers to what was done for the many thousands of aircrew listed as dead or missing in Western Europe by the end of the Second World War.

The programme of care for the military dead included everyone of whatever nationality who had served with the British forces.

Where airmen were concerned, this included members of the RCAF, the RAAF, and the RNZAF, because they had been under the RAF’s operational control.

 

The WAR GRAVES AND REMEMBRANCE website is run by Dr Jennie Gray, Chair of the RAF PATHFINDERS ARCHIVE. There are a number of links back to the Archive website, as all the material collected by Dr Gray over the course of more than twenty years research has been permanently loaned to the Archive.

The RAF PATHFINDERS ARCHIVE concentrates mainly upon the Path Finder Force of Bomber Command, but it also looks at the wider context of service in the RAF, including what happened to the huge number of aircrew who were lost on operations, hence the links between the two sites.

If you would like to know more about the ARCHIVE, please see these pages:

THE ARCHIVE

THE ARCHIVE’S PURPOSE AND RESOURCES

 

The RAF and the Army

The RAF’s work for airmen who were missing or had been killed could not have taken place without the British Army.

By an agreement made between the Air Ministry and the War Office, the RAF was not responsible for the exhumations, registrations or concentration of its own dead.

Until September 1948, these tasks in Western Europe were carried out by the Army Graves Service, and the RAF only took them over when the Graves Service was disbanded.

As a 1950 RAF report on the work for the missing put it:

From the start the RAF Missing Research and Enquiry Service worked in close cooperation with the Army Graves Service. The Army was responsible for the exhumation and concentration of graves into British Military Cemeteries, and for their registration. A Royal Air Force or Dominions Air Force officer was normally present at the exhumation to help in the identification of bodies known or believed to belong to one of the Air Forces. […] The work was carried out in accordance with the principles agreed between the Air Ministry and the War Office.

TNA, AIR2/10031, Air Ministry Casualty Branch, unsigned, ‘Missing Research – Origin and Development’, report, date stamped 29 March 1950.