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Were any WW1 servicemen 'killed' later found 'alive'?


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#1 sutton-in-craven

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Posted 09 July 2011 - 11:09 AM

Hi everyone, I'm intrigued to know whether there were any reported cases of WW1 servicemen, assumed to have been killed in action, 're-surfacing' years later? :blink:

There are certainly cases of this happening after WW2 where the odd Japanese soldier emerged from the jungle 30 years later.

I'm curious as to whether this also happened on the battlefields of WW1, where medals & the Death Plaque/Scroll were issued to the next of kin, name was added to the war memorial, only to find out later that the 'deceased' is alive & well in a convalescent home in the south of England suffering from amnesia? :o ........for example!



#2 ss002d6252

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Posted 09 July 2011 - 11:14 AM

http://1914-1918.inv...howtopic=165960

#3 headgardener

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Posted 09 July 2011 - 11:27 AM

There must have been plenty of instances in which someone disappeared for whatever reason and were subsequently declared dead.

There's a section in a WW2 memoir called 'Freedom the Spur' in which a soldier who had escaped during the retreat to Dunkirk in 1940 found himself in a French village in which the patron of the local 'estaminet' was a former British soldier from London who had deserted during WW1, settled down with a French woman, had a family, and had taken on a French identity. He owned up to having a family in London who he'd never been in touch with since he deserted, so to all intents and purposes he was 'missing presumed dead'.

His name must have been recorded on one of the CWGC memorials to the missing. And there must have been others like him. It was easier to assume a new identity in those days.

A couple of British soldiers who were executed during WW1 had spent lengthy periods 'on the run', and in one case was only caught because he had been committing repeated fraud and had therefore drawn attention to himself. How many more might have just disappeared into obscurity, like the man that I've already mentioned? We will never know.......

I don't believe that there were any substantiated stories of British or commonwealth servicemen turning up years later having suffered from amnesia. I seem to recall that there was a book about an unidentified French soldier who turned up in an asylum, but I think that there was a bit more to his story than initially met the eye, and that his identity was eventually established.

#4 headgardener

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Posted 09 July 2011 - 11:32 AM

I recall another instance reported in a local paper in which a man was declared dead following the retreat from Mons, but had survived and returned home a month or 2 later to find that his wife had moved back to her relatives elsewhere in the country and, because she was too poor to bring up a large family on her own, several of his children had been distributed between various relatives. So his home and possessions were gone and his family had been broken up.

I'm pretty sure that the case led to a change in the rules regarding the official reporting of men's deaths.

#5 River97

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Posted 09 July 2011 - 12:44 PM

There is the case of 4517 Private William Frederick Hart, a member of the 58th Infantry Battalion, AIF. He was reported as missing on 7 August 1918 and after a court of enquiry sat the determination was made of killed in action. His next of kin received his service medals, and the Memorial Plaque and Scroll were also produced. His name was added to the Australian War Memorial (and still remains to this day).

What actually happened to him on that day is anybody's guess, but he didn't die and I quote from his service records; 'I may add for your information that Private Hart's identity has been established with that of Corporal Earl MOORE. N.C.O.'s School Fort de Russy, Honolulu, but no explanation has been afforded of the circumstances under which he ultimately came to join up with the American Forces.'

It seems as though all this came out after he wrote a letter to his mother.

Cheers Andy.

#6 sutton-in-craven

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Posted 09 July 2011 - 11:38 PM

Thanks fellas, yes this is exactly the sort of thing I was referring to.

Headgardener the 'Freedom the Spur' memoir you refer to is a perfect example of a WW1 soldier being assumed dead, settling down in France for many years with a new identity while his family back home are oblivious to the fact he is still alive. Like you say, it was easier back then to assume a new identity.

Andy another great account of a 'dead man' (Pte Hart) resurfacing years later in Honolulu. Quite extraordinary! :blink:

I guess these 'happenings' would have been rare events as I'm assuming that most men serving in those stinking trenches would have prayed on a daily basis that the war end soon, then they could go home to their friends & families.

However, I'd also bet that there are still other accounts of men taking on a false identity during WW1 who never returned home AND who were never found out. B)

#7 jim_davies

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Posted 10 July 2011 - 04:43 AM

The All Saint's church war memorial in Stamford, Lincs has a name that has been painted over, presumably as it was later determined that the man wasn't actually dead. When I had the time I was working through the local period newspapers trying to figure out his identity.

#8 pbrydon

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Posted 10 July 2011 - 06:47 AM

A slightly different take on this thread.The attached letter was sent to my grandfather in 1924.

When I contacted the CWGC a few years ago, they no longer had copies of the correspondence and could not tell me what my grandfather had said in reply.

P.B.

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#9 headgardener

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Posted 10 July 2011 - 08:04 AM

What a great story from P.B........! I wonder how many cases of mistaken identity occurred?

Regarding Jim's experience, I recall that about 10 years ago I read a story about a man's name being removed from a local WW1 memorial because he was found to have survived, I wonder if it was the same case...? I seem to remember that he was also on a CWGC memorial, and that they accepted evidence that he had survived.

I believe that there were several documented cases of men surviving the war yet their names being added to a local memorial, presumably because someone locally had reported them dead (perhaps they moved away from the area when they were demobbed and a local 'worthy' subsequently noticed their absence from the local community?).

I reckon that there must have been several cases; the case of William Hart/Earl Moore proves that it was possible, especially when men could easily move to another country and start a new life. They would always become vulnerable if they contacted family or friends, even if those people knew of their subterfuge. That's also proven by the Hart/Moore case. But for those who cut all ties (like the former Tommy in 'Freedom the Spur')........ we will remember them, every Remembrance Day.......!

#10 sutton-in-craven

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Posted 10 July 2011 - 08:57 AM

I had an Australian medal group a few years ago. I remember reading the service papers for him, but can't now remember the name of the recipient.

Anyway, It would seem that he wasn't overly keen on his wife (reading between the lines). His papers showed he had returned to Australia around Feb 1919, but had failed to show up at his home address. There were 2 or 3 letters from his wife asking the army authorities about the fate of her husband as he hadn't yet come home. Accordingly there were 2 or 3 letters of response to the wife saying that her husband had already returned to Australia on a given date and he had given a different home address to his actual home address. :unsure:

In fact I think his last known address after arriving back in Oz was in Sydney and his wife lived in Melbourne.

Not quite a disappearing act, but certainly the avoidance of a home-coming!

I guess my point being, there could be any number of reasons why a WW1 serviceman would want to assume a new identity & set up a new life B)

#11 headgardener

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Posted 10 July 2011 - 09:19 AM

I guess my point being, there could be any number of reasons why a WW1 serviceman would want to assume a new identity & set up a new life B)


There is always the potential for some individuals to use great cataclysmic events as an 'escape route'. It's a recognized phenomenon. I recall it being suggested after September 11th, the various tsunami's and world wars (it very definitely happened after WW2, but it's been slightly easier to track some of those individuals than would have been the case during or after WW1).

The cases of amnesia that you alluded to in your first post are very rarely quite what they seem; amnesia generally doesn't work that way. It may simply reflect an individual trying to 'explain', to themselves as much as to others, why they did what they did.

#12 stevebecker

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Posted 10 July 2011 - 11:08 PM

Mates.

I also have read this type of story given by PB in the AIF service records where the CWGC wrote to a soldier to say that an item of his equiptment (like his name on a water bottle or mess tin) was found on a body and did he know who it mite be?

In all cases I've read know one had a que?

S.B

#13 Blackblue

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Posted 12 July 2011 - 10:16 AM

My Grand Uncle...so proud...

No idea what he did for the 5 years after 1922, but he fell overboard and drowned in Sydney after working his passage from Seattle where he had visited his brother. He was on the way to visit my G Grandfather in Queensland. He ended up in South Africa after joining the South African Constabulary during the Boer War. He served in 7 different Corps in the South African Forces in WW1!

His passage to Australia is another interesting story...

Rgds

Tim D

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#14 Blackblue

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Posted 12 July 2011 - 10:21 AM

And his trip...

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