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War Graves

Volume 148: debated on Wednesday 9 November 1921

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(by Private Notice)asked the Secretary of State for War whether the military organisation which has been at work in France and Flanders since the Armistice, searching for bodies and concentrating scattered graves, has been withdrawn; and, if so, in view of the urgent necessity of allaying public anxiety, he will state whether he is satisfied that their work is completed?

Since the Armistice the whole battlefield area in France and Flanders has been systematically searched at least six times. Some areas in which the fighting had been particularly heavy were searched as many as 20 times. In the spring of 1920 the work was easy and rapid owing to the number of surface indications, but since then in approximately 90 per cent. of the bodies found there was no surface indication. These invisible graves were found by various local indications recognised by the experience of the exhumation parties. It is probable that a number of these invisible graves have not yet been found, and are likely to be brought to light during the work of reconstruction and in the opening up of areas at present inaccessible owing to the thickness of undergrowth, the marshiness of the land, etc., etc. The searching, however, was most thorough, as the whole of the battlefield area was divided up into map squares, to which a platoon under a subaltern was allotted. The actual search party usually consisted of about 12 men under a senior non-commissioned officer. These parties systematically searched the whole of the surface of the areas.

In view of the thoroughness of the search the Army Council has come to the conclusion that the time has now arrived when this work should cease, and consequently they have issued instructions for the withdrawal of the military exhumation parties which were employed by them. It is practically certain that in the course of reconstruction and drainage operations and of the clearing of débris, bodies hitherto unsuspected will be found, and that this will continue for years to come. The owners and inhabitants are now resuming possession of their houses, fields, and gardens, and reports of the discovery of bodies by such owners and occupiers, must be awaited before exhumation and re-interment in an approved cemetery-can be undertaken. Any bodies so discovered will, in accordance with agreements already arrived at with the French and Belgian civil authorities, be reported to local representatives of the Imperial War Graves Commission, by whom arrangements will be made for the re-interment of the bodies in the existing military cemeteries. In cases where relatives or friends can produce from their own knowledge evidence that the body of an officer or soldier may be found in a particular locality, special search will be made under the instructions of the Imperial War Graves Commission if the Commission is satisfied that a good primâ facie case has been made out. I hope this statement of the work done and the arrangements made for the future will allay any public anxiety in the matter.