Posted 27 November 2009 - 08:38 PM
My tuppence worth....
The whole of the effort of commemoration, originally in the form or the war memorial, was aimed at giving a focal point to grieving familes who could either not visit their loved one's grave or never had that chance, since the chap "through the fortunes of war" was denied a proper burial.
How many times do we researchers obtain a sense of satisfaction that a name on local memorial - say Smith, J - is eventually proven to be Private John Smith of such and such a regiment, who died at a certain battle, and has no known grave. At least we found out who he was, even if not where he now lies. We give him back some modicum of dignity, even if he was the end of a family line that has literally died out. Example - the "In From The Cold" project.
How many service records have we read (I am thinking of the Australian records here) containing poignant letters from mothers, wives or fathers enquiring into the whereabouts of their missing lad? Or original burial reports which neverthless resulted in a lost grave.
What then if remains are found? The very essence of what we, often voiciferously, proclaim as sacrosanct - never forgotten, etc. For what reason do we get outraged when a memorial or grave is desecrated? What would we say to a present day army widow, if we found a body or two, but were not sure if it might be their husband. Shall we say 'thought to be?" That is frankly unimaginable.
So what is the difference for a Great War casualty whose remains are finally uncovered? We might have the chance to discover who you were, but frankly you've been buried all these years where you fell, your family who knew you are all now dead (well, mostly), and the authorities are shying away from the cost of properly identifying you. We can perhaps do the bare minimum and re-inter you in a military cemetery, and there are even those who say leave you where you are. You've been there for such a time, why disturb things now?
We have increasing interest from families uncovering their own history - and TV programmes made about it - with much emotion on learning of the sacrifices of but a couple of generations ago, but we might shy away from the actual fact of finding the missing. Maybe that path already started back in the 1920's, when official recovery efforts ceased, but it seems a great pity to not now walk that extra mile in identifying remains when we increasingly have the technical ability to do so.
I have a Great Grand Uncle who lies unburied at Galipoli. Of course I never knew him. I did not even know of him until recent years, when starting my researches. I have no contact with decendents on his side of my family. I have therefore little emotional ties. But nonetheless I would like to think that, if his remains were uncovered (or the whereabouts discovered), effort would be made to gain his identification and place him in a marked grave. I believe it is owed to him and his comrades. Should we not just "do the least", but do "the very best" by them?