After D-Day, 6 June 1944, the British began an immense operation in Western Europe, on behalf of all nationalities serving with the British forces, to find out what had happened to the missing and the dead.
The three main aims of the operation were:
- to discover what had happened to the missing
- to honorably bury the dead
- to commemorate those who could not be found
This care 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. The Imperial War Graves Commission (now the CWGC) only took over the graves, cemeteries and records once the work had been completed.
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.
- 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, RAAF, murdered at Tilburg in Holland, 9 July 1944. From the trial papers, National Archives, Kew.
This is a very famous case, well known to the Dutch because a Dutch national hero, Coba Pulskens, had been hiding the three airmen who were killed. She lost her life in a German concentration camp the following year.