Ownership of remains were always problematical when other countries were involved; it was particularly so when there were intermingled British and American remains, because the two national programmes had clashing objectives where repatriation was concerned. The case of Orde Wingate, the famous leader of the Chindits, is an example of this problem. See our new page: Orde Wingate & Sir John Dill, Arlington, USA
What is often not realised about the evacuation of the BEF (British Expeditionary Force) from France in June 1940 is that not everyone left from Dunkirk. Several thousand men came out from St Nazaire on the edge of western France, and amongst these was Arthur Owen Stott, later to be the Commanding Officer of the Army Graves Service in Western Europe.
Stott and his unit was evacuated only a day and a half before the sinking of the Lancastria outside St Nazaire, a horrific tragedy in which some 3,000 troops, RAF men, and civilians lost their lives. In February 1945, when CO of the 21 Army Group Graves Service, Stott would investigate a fraudulent claim for compensation concerning the Lancastria.
SEE OUR NEW PAGE: Stott and the Evacuation from France, June 1940
The Dutch tradition of laying flowers on all the individual graves in a cemetery began very soon after the war. The photograph here, taken at the Arnhem-Oosterbeek cemetery, was probably taken in 1946 or 1947.
In 1947, The Times recorded that ‘on one day recently […] over 30,000 Dutch people visited the graves of the fallen of Arnhem’. It added:
On occasions it is alleged that graves are cared for by those whose real interest is in the reward of cigarettes and food sent from England, but one has only to mark the many graves of the unknown that have been adopted to see without a doubt that this cynical charge applies only to a few isolated instances.
Special Correspondent, ‘The Dead of the Empire: Work of Army and Imperial War Graves Commission: Ideals and Achievement’, The Times, 11 November 1947.
Further to yesterday’s post about Colonel Stott and possible photographs of him at work, the second photograph, also in the Gelders Archief, shows Stott in the very early days of the ARNHEM-OOSTERBEEK CEMETERY. He is deep in conference with Captain J T Long, of 37 Graves Registration Unit.
This cemetery was developed with the full cooperation of the local authorities, and a remarkable pair of letters show the cordial relationship between the authorities and the Army Graves Service: CORRESPONDENCE.
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
This is a new article, looking at the huge difference in identification rates between the American and British programmes for the dead. Unlike the Americans, who ran a joint programme for soldiers and airmen, the British Army and the RAF had two somewhat separate agendas, reflecting the RAF’s intense concentration on finding and identifying its missing. Identification Rates – American and British