Aurel Sercu, on 05 August 2012 - 09:08 AM, said:
I had thought : I can understand that in an area that was heavily fought over for a long period, and with frontlines moving forward and backward all the time, and men fallen in no man's land (like the Boezinge east bank canal site, from summer 1915 till summer 1917), a very high percentage of unknown graves can be expected. (And indeed it is.) But for an advance that progressed so smoothly and fast like the one from Boezinge to Langemark on July 31st, 1917 ?! After all, when men fell, they could 'easily' be found and identified and given an (improvised) grave by the troops following them, on the day(s) after the advance, when (due to the bad weather) the situation was relatively quiet. Apparently I was wrong.
I've just worked out some figures for the King's Own Royal Lancasters for 31st July. For the 1/4th Bn, 78% of those killed in action have no known grave and for the 1/5th Bn, it's a lower percentage at 60%. Possibly the war diaries go some way towards explaining the discrepancy.
The diary for the 1/5th describes holding the line on the 2nd August with "the men standing up to their knees in mud and water." On the 3rd they "brought in the bodies of the officers and buried some of the men." Later that day, they were relieved and left the front. The 1/4th however, suffered heavier casualties and received orders to withdraw on the 1st August to the old front line, and thus had no opportunity to go forward to collect their dead. The 1/4th KORL and 1/4th Loyal North Lancs could only manage 150 men between them (the war diary is a little ambiguous here, but seems to mean 150 between both battalions, rather than just KORL) to man the old front line, so I'm sure that resources were concentrated more on the living than the dead. The diary concludes with "the casualties of the Battalion were not as serious as those of other untis in the Brigade."
I suspect that the difficulty of moving the dead meant that those found by other units were buried near to where they fell, and repeated shelling and general condition of the ground would soon lead to their graves becoming lost.