The Missing of the Great War

April 10, 2017
Menin Gate Memorial-Names

Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres, Belgium showing interior wall with names of missing.

As I watched the 100th anniversary ceremonies at the Vimy Memorial in France and listened to news reports I noticed there was some confusion when discussing “missing” soldiers. I hope to clarify that in this article, another in my series on the Great War 1914-1918.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is charged with ensuring that the final resting places of the dead from both World Wars are preserved forever. After the November 11, 1918 Armistice the Commission’s work began. They began by recording the details of the dead from Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Newfoundland, and other countries of the British Commonwealth. Some 587,000 graves were identified and a further 559,000 casualties registered as having no known grave. Once land had been acquired they began constructing cemeteries. They consolidated smaller cemeteries into the larger ones and located as many battlefield burials as they could and interred them in the larger cemeteries.

The principles of the Commission mandated an identical headstone for every soldier regardless of rank, religion or race. Basic information where known was inscribed. Christian soldiers stones have a cross and Jewish soldiers have the Star of David. All cemeteries are well maintained. The Commission replaces about 20,000 stones every year due to weathering or damage or information correction. They also did not allow the reparation of any of the dead they were all to be buried where they died.

These cemeteries contain two types of burials, those containing identified soldiers and those graves containing remains of unidentified soldiers. The latter are the “Unknowns”. Finally all those killed, but where remains have never been located are the “Missing”. As can be seen from the previous paragraph this is a staggering number. In the war years of 1914 to 1918 soldiers were blown to bits in battle, sank into the deep mud and just disappeared. Over the years as bodies are found through various activities on the battlefields identification is attempted. If a name can be associated with the remains they are buried with that on the headstone, otherwise they are buried as unknown. They are removed from the missing list.

The War Graves Cemeteries commemorate the dead whose remains were located. The Commission also wanted to commemorated the “missing” in some permanent way so they decided to engrave the names on memorials. The Vimy Memorial walls contain the names of 11,285 Canadian soldiers who were killed in France during World War I, but who do not have a known resting place. It should be noted there are no cemeteries at the Vimy Ridge Memorial, but there are a short distance away.

For those who died in Belgium (or Flanders) the Menin Gate Memorial was constructed in Ypres, Belgium. This memorial contains the names of over 54,000 soldiers from Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand who do not have a known resting place, the “missing”. Those Canadians who went missing presumed killed at Passchendaele for example are included at this memorial.

In my case I had a great-uncle, Herbert T. Waite, who was killed at Vimy but never found. His name is engraved into the Vimy Memorial Wall. I located him by searching the Commission’s database for all the surnames in my family I was researching. For common surnames you may need additional information to narrow the search results to the correct individual. You can also search for cemeteries. The search is free and easy to use.

So next time you hear about the “Missing” remember they have no known resting place, but their names are etched into the walls of Menin Gate and the Vimy Memorial and others so we can remember them always.

Should you wish to located the grave of a relative killed in the Great War or the Second World War here is the link to search. The results will tell you the exact location if it is a burial. If the person is one of the “missing” is will have under Burial “N/A” but will tell you where the name is engraved.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission


Hillcrest Mine Disaster: 100 Years

June 21, 2014
The site of mass grave in Hillcrest Cemetery. Coffins were laid side by side in the grave. Photo Steve B. Davis, 2012

The site of mass grave in Hillcrest Cemetery. Coffins were laid side by side in the grave. Photo Steve B. Davis, 2012

One hundred years ago on June 19, 1914 Canada’s worst mine disaster changed the Village of Hillcrest, Alberta forever. At about 9 a.m. a massive explosion thundered through the mine. Of the 235 men working the morning shift 189 were killed. In a few seconds wives became widows and children lost fathers. The Pass was rocked to its core.

The Crowsnest Pass in Southern Alberta was and is still coal mining country. In 1914 coal was king. Virtually everything ran on coal, trains, heating for houses and industry. Demand was high and the Pass had many mines employing thousands.

I visited the area recently and took in the history. I stood beside the massive grave site in Hillcrest Cemetery. It shocked me how many men were buried there. The entire Pass area reeks of history. Visit soon to take in this fascinating history and beautiful scenery.

Memorial in the cemetery erected to honour the miners. Photo Steve B. Davis, 2012

Memorial in the cemetery erected to honour the miners. Photo Steve B. Davis, 2012

Here are some links I recommend to learn more about this tragedy and the history of the times. I especially suggest the Crowsnest Pass Museum in Coleman. They have exhibits on coal mining and the disaster in Hillcrest. They are also stewarding the centennial remembrances.

Crowsnest Pass Museum, Coleman, Alberta
Centenary of Hillcrest Mine Disaster
Hillcrest Mine Disaster
Discover Crowsnest Pass Heritage

 


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