The British and their Dead Servicemen, North-West Europe, 1944-1951
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
As approved by Professor Richard Overy, this embargo is being placed prior to the publication of this thesis in book form. Open access at this stage may lead to disputes about intellectual property
Shortly after landing in France on D-Day, 6 June 1944, the British began a programme of care for the military dead of North-West Europe which would last for some seven years. The dead included not only the fatal casualties of the 1944-45 campaigns to liberate the occupied countries and conquer Germany, but also those who had died during the defeats in Norway and France in 1940. In addition, there the many thousands of missing RAF airmen who had been lost throughout the six years of the war. The Royal Navy, for obvious reasons, had few land-based dead, and thus it was the Army and the RAF who carried out the complex programme, ranging over vast areas of Europe and into Soviet territory as the Cold War began. The Army had the central role in registrations, exhumations, and the creation of the new military cemeteries, whilst the RAF’s focus was almost entirely upon the search for its missing airmen. The Services had different motivations and different agendas, but the ultimate goal of each was the honourable burial of the dead and the creation of registers of the long-term missing, who would later be commemorated on memorials. The British search and graves units, by the nature of their work, often discovered evidence of war crimes. The high cultural standing of the British dead was intrinsically related to the horrors of the Nazi regime, and revulsion against the nation responsible for so much suffering led to difficult policy decisions on servicemen’s graves in Germany. It was a matter of pride, however, that the German dead, many thousands of whom became the responsibility of the British, were treated in almost exactly the same way as their own servicemen.
PhD in History