I did a little research on Ancestry this morning and re-discovered the Uncle who was killed in Karachi...he’s buried in one of the War Graves cemeteries there which made me wonder, how the fallen soldiers and airmen end up in an official burial place when they may well have been killed miles away.
It’s simply wasn’t feasible for their fellows to transport them...especially during the First War when hundreds of men sometimes died on one day...
Those who were left alive and able went to each dead soldier to see if they could identify them...sometimes simply from their faces if they were a friend for instance...or from going through their pockets and retrieving all their personal possessions. Then they were buried just behind the battle line...along with any of the enemies’ soldiers who had strayed too far beyond their trenches or dug-outs.
There wasn’t time for the Chaplain to conduct a ceremony so they were buried in haste, with the place marked by a simple cross, and all the dog-tags, pocket books and other personal odds and ends were handed to an Officer to be kept safe until they were returned to the family.
Towards the end of the War...around 1917/1918...portions of land were given by the French for the sole purpose of being used to bury the dead soldiers in dignity...through-out the 1920’s crews of men scoured the battlefields looking for any evidence of burials...many of the original graves had been destroyed as the armies retreated...so they were looking for discarded helmets and rat holes...rifles poking up through the earth and scattered bones.
The remains were then transported in fleets of ambulances and Lorries to the new cemeteries’ where religious ceremonies were carried out and pristine white crosses put in place with the soldiers name. For those who remained nameless...and there were many...the stone states simply...’Unknown Soldier’.
And you may well be thinking as I was...how did those looking for the dead know their names and ranks when that evidence had long been removed...I can only presume that there is a soldier in each grave and each stone has a name.
Some of the officers, whose families were well able to afford the transport, had their sons and brothers brought back to England for burial in the family plot. That wasn’t really an option for other ranks.
The War Graves Commission is responsible for the care and upkeep of each of the cemeteries’...and they are beautifully tended and maintained.
So, if you’ve ever wondered what happened to your Gt Uncle killed in a theatre of war a hundred years ago the chances are he’ll be buried next to his comrades...his place marked by a simple white cross.