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Thread: 55 Graves Concentration Unit

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    Default 55 Graves Concentration Unit

    Dear all,

    Does someone of you know if this unit played a role in exhumations and identifications of RAF aircrew on the European mainland ? Or was this gruesome job done only by the MREU's ?

    Thanks very much indeed.

    Kind regards,
    Hans

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    Hans,

    The following services existed:

    1. Grave Registration Units (GRU's) - marking field graves with names as far as possible. A job often done by Army Chaplains, often very shorty after the liberation of an area.

    2. Grave Concentration Units (GCU's) - transporting remains from initial burial sites (in case of airmen: field graves at or near crash sites or local cemeteries) to so-called concentration cemeteries. The first of these was Bayeux, regarding WW2 casualties.

    3. Missing Research & Enquiry Service (MR&ES), divided in a number of MR&EU's (Units). This service tried to trace the missing. It operated until 1952. Stuart Hadaway very recently published "Missing Believed Killed", ISBN 978-1-84415-734-1, about this service. The first book on the subject. Highly recommended.

    GCU's "concentrated" graves to dedicated cemeteries founded & cared for by the Imperial War Graves Commission, later the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. This was done with all or most graves in enemy territory, whilst many graves in territory that had been occupied were left in local care. Especially if locals expressed a wish to that effect. Thus the Allied, non-US war graves are scattered over hundreds of cemeteries in Western Europe, whilst in Germany the graves are, except for very few, concentrated in a dozen dedicated cemeteries.

    The MR&ES did the job of the GRU's & GCU's too, for casualties not found earlier. Forensic exhumations, also in concentration cemeteries, were performed by the MR&ES too. One can only dream of the results had they had DNA technology at their disposal...

    Exhumation and reburial elsewhere, or repatriation of the remains, was done by other Allied governments too. I can document cases of airmen, whose remains were relocated four times after the initial field burial at the crash site. These processes could span more than 10 years after 1945, for those whose graves were found directly after the liberation of an area. A few of the casualties had their remains spirited away from the official processing sphere, by families who saw to a home burial themselves.

    The work of registering & caring for the dead is not fully described by this. During the occupation, a great number of people and organisations were involved in this work. Local Police, the Red Cross, the Germans, clergymen, and private individuals. Hardly any of these were trained for that job. Hence the quality of their reports, that range from very poor to first class. They did what they could.

    Adding it up, a lot of people and a lot of organisations were involved with this work. It can be understood that some casualties, that were initially identified, became missing in the process. The problem of cross-lingual and -cultural paperwork is just one of the factors producing mishaps, from a long list. In the light of that, one can only marvel at what has in fact been achieved in those pre-digital days with typewriters, carbon paper, and normal non-electronic mail.

    As far as I know, the GCU's were not designated to work on casualties of specific services. Units worked in area's, "processing" all military casualties found there. As a more specific answer to your question: No. 55 GCU was involved with grave relocations of military casualties found in the area where it operated, meaning that RAF casualties may well have been included. The work would include identifications too, if at all possible.

    With this the last detail about the subject has not been told, but I assume that the above gives you some idea.

    Regards,

    Rob
    Last edited by Rob Philips; 2nd April 2009 at 22:55.

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    Hello Rob,

    Thanks for your explanation on this. There seem to have been a certain amount of fieldgraves in and around the villages here (most of them were British who where killed whilst taking part in the "forgotten battle" (battle of Overloon). some of them were AOC and RAF as well. Most (if not all) British fieldgraves were cleared and the bodies moved to the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Overloon where they found their final resting place.

    Was wondering if this particular unit (55 GCU) was responsable for that.
    Did not find any reports regarding this relocations.
    The letter holding the information on 55 GCU was adressed to the local Town Hall, asking them to give information on the locations of these fieldgraves.

    Anyway, thanks again Rob.

    Hans

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    Hans,

    I was given to understand that the GRU/GCU archive now rests with the CWGC, where it is inaccessible for the public.

    Regards,

    Rob

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    Seems that CWGC needs to have its lid taken off and strong lights shone into what is beneath. Unfortunately the current financial situation is not one whereby UK Members of Parliament (let alone others) can see any political advantage in pursuing this matter. Therefore why do it?
    If we are about to clean up the banking industry then why, at the same time, do we not clean up CWGC and the International Red Cross organisations. Both have, in my opinion, been sheltering for far too long behind a facade which sheilded them from public scrutiny.
    Time for a change.
    HTH
    Peter Davies
    Meteorology is a science; good meteorology is an art!
    We might not know - but we might know who does!

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    Good evening Peter,

    How's life?

    I can understand why they keep the lid closed but it blocks questions to be answered unfortunately. Especially for people like us, searching for information, this can be very frustrating now and then.

    Wonder if these files will ever be open for the public. Guess not.

    Sincerely,
    Hans

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    Gentlemen,

    Never give up hope. It is my understanding that this CWGC archive is closed because it is being digitized. That shall take a few years - at least. Digitizing holds the promise that, eventually, the material shall be available, and possibly even online. As done by the AU & CA Governments, members of the Commonwealth. I venture to guess that this CWGC archive has a very basic system, perhaps even of the carton box type. Meaning that data is hard to find, and then only by the few who are intimate with the piles-of-papers-"system".

    Regarding Overloon, the burial history is much more complicated. A number of field graves were relocated to British Cemetery "De Kleffen", located on what is now museum area, to be relocated again, to the current CWGC Overloon War Cemetery. Another temporary burial ground was at the Venrayscheweg. A large number of citizens had a few to many servicemen buried in their gardens. Many were reburied not in Overloon but in Mook War Cem, and some in Venray WC. It would be interesting to see the Overloon City answer to that GRU request. That answer is likely to have been quite extensive.

    Regards,

    Rob

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