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WW1 killed in action - no body to bury

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WW1 killed in action - no body to bury

Postby tessacate » Thu Feb 27, 2020 5:23 am

Can I call on the collective knowledge and wisdom of this forum please to ask:

If someone died in Belgium in November 1914 and no body was found, was a formal investigation done some time later to determine the circumstances and then declare them formally dead?

I know this happened with Australian WW1 soldiers and the Red Cross holds those records.

I would be grateful if someone can tell me if the same thing happened with British soldiers please. And if so, where I might find the records.

The individual's service record hasn't survived and the unit's war diary is silent on the matter. I have his medal card from TNA and information from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

The soldier I'm researching is Pte Patrick Hourigan of C Coy, 2nd Battalion, Royal Munster Fusiliers.

Any pointers will be sincerely appreciated.

Regards
Therese
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Re: WW1 killed in action - no body to bury

Postby MoVidger » Thu Feb 27, 2020 6:01 am

Hi Therese - in case you haven't seen it yet, FMP have this record for Patrick. The image is only a "fragment" of the document, though. It's a handwritten list which includes Patrick's name, along with several other regiment casualties also killed in action on 12 Nov 1914.

British Army Service Records
First name(s) P
Last name Hourigan
Service number 6194
Regiment Royal Munster Fusiliers
Unit / Battalion 4th Battalion
Originating Record WO 363. 5573 Timothy Allen, Royal Munster Fusiliers
Series WO 363
Series description WO 363 - First World War Service Records 'Burnt Documents'
Archive The National Archives
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Re: WW1 killed in action - no body to bury

Postby AdrianB38 » Thu Feb 27, 2020 7:36 am

So far as I understand, there was no formal, soldier by soldier, investigation. Personally, I would ask - what would be the point?

On the other hand, the question was not left hanging about what happened in a broad sense. Firstly, if no body was ever discovered, then the soldier would be posted Missing. After some time and/or the discovery of extra information, they would be posted Missing Presumed Dead. The exact criteria, timing, etc of that process, I've no idea. All this would be published in the Casualty Returns printed in newspapers. It would also be noted on the guy's service papers, and the infamous telegram sent to the next of kin.

After the war, in order to provide closure, evidence for probate where required (though I can't imagine many people holding off giving access to the estate of the deceased if presented with the telegram or a Casualty Return), etc. it was decided to issue death certificates for all the deceased, no matter where they died. These are in what I can vaguely call the MoD series. Be aware that they say nothing useful about circumstances nor where someone died other than France & Flanders or whatever the theatre of war was.

So the process did give public and family notification and death certificates - though I presume many would never have gotten a more definitive verdict than Missing Presumed Dead (along with a death certificate).

Finally, do remember that many who are recorded as No Known Grave, did originally have one, but the fortunes (misfortunes) of war caused the site of burial to be lost or the body could not be identified when exhumed for transfer into the commemorative cemeteries of the Imperial War Graves Commission.

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Re: WW1 killed in action - no body to bury

Postby AdrianB38 » Thu Feb 27, 2020 7:44 am

It occurs to me that finding the last reference to the soldier in the Casualty Returns might offer some insight into his fate. If the last entry said Dead, rather than Missing Presumed Dead, would this mean that a body had been found - and the grave subsequently lost? I actually have no idea on that point.

But searching Casualty Returns is not easy as I think that they are all processed by OCR with its resulting error rate.

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Re: WW1 killed in action - no body to bury

Postby avaline » Thu Feb 27, 2020 10:58 am

His death was reported in the Times 27 Jan 1915, reported 5 Dec 1914.
Attachments
Hourigan.JPG
Hourigan.JPG (67.26 KiB) Viewed 566 times
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Re: WW1 killed in action - no body to bury

Postby MaureenE » Thu Feb 27, 2020 11:56 am

The following, available online, may be of interest

"Chapter XI “Missing”" page 130 "The Soul of the Soldier; Sketches from the Western Battle-Front" by Thomas Tiplady, Chaplain to the Forces. 1918 Archive.org.
https://archive.org/stream/soulofsoldie ... 0/mode/2up

Cheers
Maureen
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Re: WW1 killed in action - no body to bury

Postby AdrianB38 » Thu Feb 27, 2020 3:48 pm

Thanks Avaline for that FMP info.

I did a date based check on the CWGC site - scroll down the front page to follow the link for "Find War Dead" and you can use the More Options to restrict the date of death. So I did a search for Regiment = Royal Munster Fusiliers, First World War, Date of Death = 5 Nov 1914 to 19 Nov 1914. That threw up 44 deaths in all parts of the RMF in that date range, only 11 of which were not on the Menin Gate (the death is recorded on the Menin Gate if there is no known grave).

If I further restrict it to 12 Nov and 13 Nov only, then there are 24 deaths, all barring two on the 12th. 21 of the deaths are on the Menin Gate

Now, I don't claim any knowledge of what typical percentages would be, but this is a pretty high percentage of Menin Gate (no known grave). Either some utterly dreadful explosion(?) consumed 21 bodies out of 24 or, as I think is more likely, most of the bodies were found initially but could not be located after the war. The fact that the deaths were reported relatively quickly, rather than being posted Missing, etc, tends to support this view.

I think that we've mentioned this before, but bodies were initially buried in small, temporary, battlefield cemeteries and, after the war, exhumed for transfer to the major IWGC / CWGC cemeteries. One of the issues with identifying bodies on exhumation was that soldiers in the early part of the war were only given one "dog tag". As part of the process for closing down a soldier's details, that dog tag was sent into the system as proof of death. Of course, that meant that when the IWGC had the melancholy duty of exhuming the body for transfer, there might be no means of identification. Maybe a marker survived on the grave - maybe not. In later years (don't ask me when) soldiers were given 2 tags and one stayed with the body, thus creating a better chance of identification on exhumation. Of course, the other issue is that the small, temporary, battlefield cemeteries might be lost when the area was fought over again.

So actually I'd say that there is a good chance that Patrick's body was recovered and buried - it was sadly lost afterwards. It's unlikely we'll ever know.
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Re: WW1 killed in action - no body to bury

Postby mbford222 » Fri Feb 28, 2020 6:18 pm

Hi, Last year I contacted the Royal Munster Fusiliers Association at www.rmfa92.org to let them know that I had 6 members of my family serving with them through 3 generations. They were quite interested and even came up with photos of a few of the soldiers. Their archivist was most helpful and it was well worth a donation. We exchanged a great deal of information.
Good luck with your search,
Margaret in Ottawa
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Re: WW1 killed in action - no body to bury

Postby junkers » Fri Feb 28, 2020 10:22 pm

One of my granduncles died when aged 23, he was in the Cameronians (Royal Scottish Rifles) outside Arras in northern Franc, he was blown-up by a mine and no body was found and his dead is recorded amongst the military deaths register at the National Records of Scotland. His name is amongst the badly-worn names of the plaque of those without a grave on the war memorials just outside Arras. It has been said that after the war soldiers could be re-buried as many as seven times, we should not forget that the areas may still have been mined.
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Re: WW1 killed in action - no body to bury

Postby tessacate » Thu Apr 09, 2020 4:53 am

Many thanks everyone for your assistance, background and suggestions. It is very much appreciated.

Therese :)
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