HC Deb 10 August 1920 vol 133 cc203-4

asked the Secretary of State for War if he is aware that at the present time (or, at any rate, until within the last few weeks) the War Graves Commission were having the bodies of our men in France exhumed and buried in other cemeteries without in any way communicating with the relatives, in spite of the fact that every day numbers of relatives are going over to France furnished with particulars of where the original graves of their dead relatives are?


The Imperial War Graves Commission is not charged with the exhumation and reburial of bodies referred to by the hon. Member. The work of concentration of graves is carried out directly under the control of the War Office through the Director of Graves Registration in France. Throughout this work the rule has been laid down that no bodies should be removed except in cases where such a step is absolutely essential owing either to the graves being isolated or to valid objections on the part of the French authorities to their being left where they are. The number of isolated and other graves which it has been necessary thus to concentrate is about 231,000, and it will be obvious to the hon. Member that, in view of the magnitude of the task, it has not been possible to communicate with the relatives individually before concentration took place.

The information regarding exhumation and concentration is forwarded to the War Office with as little delay as possible, though necessarily in many cases a few weeks must elapse before this information has been collated and is received in London. It is communicated to inquirers who apply for the latest news before proceeding to France. The necessity for so doing has been repeatedly emphasised by me in the House, and notifications to that effect have been published from time to time in the Press.


asked the Secretary of State for War whether, having regard to the terms of the Treaty, it is possible for relatives to purchase a grave in France; and, if so, whether they may be given the opportunity of purchasing the necessary amount of land, and thus be saved the added pain caused by the official communication that the body has been exhumed and placed in some other cemetery?


No question arises as to the purchase of the site except in connection with isolated graves, as in all other cases the land is acquired in perpetuity by the French Government at the cost of the French nation. Where relatives desire to purchase the site of an isolated grave the Imperial War Graves Commission has no power to intervene, though whenever consulted they have strongly advised against such procedure, as it is difficult to see how satisfactory arrangements can be made for maintenance in perpetuity of such graves, for which, of course, the Imperial War Graves Commission is unable to take any responsibility. The number of such purchases in France has been small, and no objection has been raised so far by the French Government, though it is known that their desire is that graves should be concentrated as far as possible The Belgian Government, on the other hand, has consistently insisted on all graves being concentrated, and has refused to permit such individual purchases.