Diggers Reburied to Avoid Red Tape Article in The Daily Telegraph (NSW) 21 April 2011
as the discussion is becoming more general.
Imagine you're a British or Australian MP. Your constituent comes along and informs you that French farmers are digging up remains of men killed 90 years ago and quickly reburying them to avoid the time, paperwork, fuss and bother and expense, I suspect, caused by delays to work schedules and so on). What do you do - you utter sympathetic words and promise to look into it. What can you do - nothing.
You're a French deputy, representing a large rural constituency in northern France. A British or Austrlaian government official comes along and makes you aware of the problem. You mutter platitudes, perhaps shrug in a Gallic fashion, but the you consider this: your job depends on the votes of a set of farmers, who want to press on and make a living. As we know from the various instances of incinerated British sheep, French farmers are not renowned for their open-minded, adaptable to circumstances outlook on life.
Suggesting to them that they stop, call the Gendarmes, wait for several days while the site is excavated and all evidence collected, then have a potter to see what else is there and then - only then - may you proceed is going to go down like a pastis with no Pernod.
This might sound terribly negative, but in reality your MP, the CWGC, the MOD, the Ministry of Veterans' Affairs and all the king's horses are not going to affect Monsieur Dupont in his desire to earn a living.
Sorry, but that's how I see it.
I think your post accurately sums up what happens if people "go through the motions". Possibly a more thorough consideration of the issue is required.
There are possibly two main issues:
- (Some) British / Australian etc. sensitivities are offended by the idea of "ploughing back in" - respect etc.
- French landowners are irritated by the delay and loss of "free use of their land" - part of the reason "we" went to war
Resolution is basically possible in one (or both) of the following manners:
- Brits and Australians etc. learn to be less sensitive - look at official practice in Gallipoli
- We look to ways to reduce the irritation
- "educate them about our sensitivities" - rather you than me!
- "reduce the delay" - some form of guarantee to recover remains within a given time
- allow "lower quality recovery" - Farmers etc (or keen amateurs) can move remains to the edge of the field together with any associated artefacts and then CWGC (or whoever collects). This breaches the much proclaimed "archaeological/forensic" standard of recovery - and reduces the chances of an identification, but ... if the alternative is ploughing in should this be allowed as the lesser of two evils? I am not saying that I am necessarily convinced, but should it be discussed and thought through? Then the British MOD / Australian Department of Defence can actually discuss something with the French authorities.
What are the priorities?
- Free use of the land by local landowners
- Decent burial of found remains - even if as "Known unto God"
- Maximising the chances of identification