HC Deb 02 November 1948 vol 457 cc656-8
16. Mr. Hurd

asked the Secretary of State for War if he is aware that the Imperial War Graves Commission has refused the request of Mrs. Rosier, of Leckhampstead, Berkshire, for a photograph of her son's grave in the Sangro River Cemetery, Italy; and if, in view of the difficulties involved in making private arrangements for photographs to be supplied, he will arrange for the Commission to render this service.

Mr. Shinwell

The Imperial War Graves Commission have no power under their Charter to supply photographs of individual graves. In November, 1946, my Department sent Mrs. Rosier a photograph of the wooden cross placed by the Army on her son's grave. It has not yet been possible for the Commission to replace the wooden cross by a permanent headstone but they have sent Mrs. Rosier the name and address of a photographer with whom she can communicate when the headstone is in position.

Mr. Hurd

Does the Minister realise that it is quite impossible for people in the position of Mrs. Rosier to make arrangements to get foreign exchange to pay an Italian photographer? Is it not in the public interest that the Imperial War Graves Commission should be given authority to render this little service?

Mr. Shinwell

So far as foreign exchange is concerned, if it is represented to us that that is an obstacle, I will certainly look into it. As regards revising the Charter of the Imperial War Graves Commission, I am not empowered to do so.

18. Commander Noble

asked the Secretary of State for War why information that graves in Germany are to be moved is not immediately given to next-of-kin, in order that the disappointment of visiting the old site in vain may be avoided.

Mr. Shinwell

It has been the policy that all graves of Service personnel in Germany should be concentrated into military cemeteries. Owing to the numbers involved, it would have been quite impracticable to notify the next-of-kin of the date of removal and they have been informed only after the remains have been reburied in their final resting place in a military cemetery. The work in Germany of the Army Graves Service, except in the Soviet zone, has now been completed.

Commander Noble

Will the Minister give an assurance that this notice or warning, is given as soon as possible? He will no doubt appreciate the distress of people going to visit an old site.

Mr. Shinwell

I am fully aware of the difficulties and the feelings of those concerned, and I will do everything I possibly can to alleviate their suffering.

Mr. Walter Fletcher

Will the Minister say why it is impracticable? Just to state that it is impracticable is not very satisfactory. Can he give any reasons why it cannot be done?

Mr. Shinwell

Unfortunately, in these matters arrangements have to be made to disinter bodies. A great deal of difficulty arises from that—I must leave some of these matters to the imagination of hon. Members—and we prefer to deal with the matter as we propose.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there are instances in which relatives have asked that bodies shall not be moved? Can he give an assurance that their wishes will be respected?

Mr. Shinwell

I am afraid I cannot give an assurance of that kind because under these arrangements we have to provide for the interment of these bodies in military cemeteries.

Mr. Nicholson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in a case which affects me very closely personally, a special request was made that a body should not be moved and I received an assurance from one of his predecessors that that wish would be respected? Will he repeat that assurance?

Mr. Shinwell

I am afraid that I should have to look into that. However, I assure hon. Members that I am anxious to assist in every way I can to respect the feelings of those concerned.

Lieut.-Commander Gurney Braithwaite

When these transfers take place, is it not possible for the next-of-kin to receive a communication from the War Office pointing out that they will waste their time in visiting the old site?

Mr. Shinwell

So far as I know, no difficulties have arisen in that connection—I inquired into it—but if there are cases where people have not been informed in time, I will do what I can to prevent that happening.

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