HC Deb 29 June 1925 vol 185 cc2029-30W

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that in the first week of May, 1921, the Imperial War Graves Commission obtained a clue to the identity of the body of Lieutenant A. R., of the 7th Durham Light Infantry, killed near Ypres on 24th May, 1915, in the shape of an inscribed matchbox found in his tunic; that the Commission made no inquiry as to the inscription until the end of April, 1925; that the father of this officer was consequently kept in ignorance of these facts until 16th May, 1925 (reference YP /50,427); that the only excuse given has been pressure of work in connection with identifications; and if he will take steps to avoid such delay in future cases by seeing that this Commission is adequately and efficiently staffed?


I have made careful inquiry into this matter. The inscribed matchbox was received at the Headquarters of the Imperial War Graves Commission in London in May, 1921, but the number of articles received from the battlefields at that time was so great that only those articles of which the ownership had already been established could be transmitted immediately to the next of kin. The system adopted by the Commission for dealing with the remainder has been to investigate first those connected with cemeteries in which headstones are shortly to be erected. The examination of effects connected with the cemetery in which this officer was buried did not commence till April last, and the identification of the former owner of the matchbox was taken up shortly after the commencement of the examination. I sympathise with the feelings of the relatives of fallen officers and soldiers, at having to wait so long before the task of examining all the unidentified effects recovered from the battlefields is completed; but it must be remembered that, although in this particular case it proved a simple matter to trace the ownership of the article, in a great number of the cases the investigations are very difficult, and I am advised that the addition of untrained staff would delay, instead of expediting, progress of the work at this stage. I would emphasise the fact that the delay in this case was not due to any want of care or consideration on the part of any officer of the Imperial War Graves Commission, but arose entirely from the necessity for dealing systematically with the mass of effects received from the battlefields.