Missing, Believed Killed: Casualty Policy and the Missing Research and Enquiry Service 1939-1952, Stuart Hadaway

Missing, Believed Killed: Casualty Policy and the Missing Research and Enquiry Service 1939-1952, Stuart Hadaway

Missing, Believed Killed: Casualty Policy and the Missing Research and Enquiry Service 1939-1952, Stuart Hadaway

Missing, Believed Killed: Casualty Policy and the Missing Research and Enquiry Service 1939-1952, Stuart Hadaway

During the Second World War over 30,000 RAF crewmen went missing in action around the world. This book looks at the RAF's efforts to find out what happened to those men, a massive investigation that lasted longer than the war itself!

We start by tracing the evolution of the units charged with this task, from the small scale and ineffective system of 1939, through the Missing Research Section of 1941 and on to the Missing Research and Enquiry Service, a much larger organisation that operated everywhere the RAF had fought.

In most chapters Hadaway mixes a history of the individual unit in question with some examples of the work they were doing. I find this an effective approach, which allows the author to include quite a bit of material on the development of the unit and its organisation without the text ever being too dry. Later chapters are also organised by geographical area, so we get an insight into the different conditions members of the MRES served under, from friendly areas of liberated Europe to rather more hostile parts of Germany and on the remote and wild expanses of the Pacific theatre. Threaded all the way through are case studies, where we follow our investigators as they carry out research into the loss of a particular aircraft or chase up possible burials.

This is a captivating story and tells the tale of a group of people who carried out an invaluable service, often in very telling conditions.

Chapters
1 - A Corner of a Foreign Field
2 - The Missing Problem and Wreck Recovery
3 - The Air Ministry Regrets: Casualty Procedure 1939-45
4 - Missing Research Section, P.4 (Cas)
5 - Missing Research and Enquiry Service
6 - Around the World I Search For Thee
7 - France, Belgium, Holland, Norway and Luxembourg
8 - No.5 MREU Mediterranean and Middle East
9 - Germany and Poland
10 - The Far East
11 - Missing Research and Graves Registration Service
12 - Last Resting Place

Appendices
A - Casualty Statistics
B - Chronology and Organisation of Units
C - History of P.4 (Cas)
D - Tracing Royal Air Force Airmen
E - War Crimes and the MRES
F - MRES Unit Badge

Author: Stuart Hadaway
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 207
Publisher: Pen & Sword Aviation
Year: 2012 edition of 2008 original



Missing, Believed Killed: Casualty Policy and the Missing Research and Enquiry Service 1939-1952, Stuart Hadaway - History

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During the early years of World War Two it soon became apparent that the system for tracing the whereabouts of the remains of RAF aircrew deemed &lsquoMissing Believed Killed&rsquo was totally inadequate. The Missing Research Section (MRS) of the Air Ministry was set up in late 1941 to deal with this increasing problem. It collected and collated intelligence reports from a wide variety of official, unofficial and covert sources in an attempt to establish the fate of missing aircrew. Increasingly this included forensic or semi-forensic work to identify personal effects passed on through clandestine channels or bodies washed up on Britain&rsquos shores.

In December 1944 the MRS was expanded and a small team of fourteen men, named the Missing Research and Enquiry Service (MRES), was sent to France to seek the missing men on the ground. With 42,000 men missing, the amount that fourteen men could achieve was naturally limited, so in July and August 1945 a series of meetings at the Air Ministry decided on the rapid expansion of the MRES to over twenty-five times its current size, split between six units with set geographical areas of responsibility.

This book explains why, in their own words, men volunteered for the job, and why they worked for so long at such a gruesome task. Each faced difficulties in terrain and climate, all the way from the Arctic Circle to the jungles of Burma. Local populations, essential to much of the MRES&rsquos work, ranged from the immensely friendly to the openly hostile teams had to operate in Germany, only recently razed from end to end by the aircrews they were seeking and then also behind an ever solidifying Iron Curtain.

The final chapters explain how to trace RAF members through both personnel and operational records, show where these records are kept and explain how to access them.

This is a very interesting book that goes into different famous aircraft crashes over the years. It covers Amelia Earheart, Amy Johnson, the Duke of Kent, Glenn Miller and a section on the Bristol Beufants. The author has obviously spent a lot of time researching each disappearance and has an extensive knowledge of flight due to being a navigator in the RAF.

Read the complete review online here.

GoodReads, Kristin Davison

This is a captivating story and tells the tale of a group of people who carried out an invaluable service, often in very testing conditions.

History of War Website

While most military personnel were stood down at the end of the Second World War, the Missing Research and Enquiry Service, formed from a small nucleus established in 1941, was expanded and began to trace the remains of those 41,881 RAF aircrew who had been posted as "Missing Believed Killed". With no front line, no definite battlefields and many aircraft lost at night in unknown locations, it was an enormously complex undertaking with investigators having to draw on what little information was available from all manner of sources. Stuart Hadaway first outlines the establishment and development of the MRES throughout the war, and goes on to describe each of the areas where their work took them from the Arctic Circle to Western Europe, the Mediterranean and Burma. He paints a vivid picture of what they encountered, be it hostile landscapes and climates, uncomfortable forays across the Iron Curtain, or the locals on whose assistance they relied people who, depending on whether they had regarded the RAF as friend or foe, ranged from the extremely helpful to the decidedly unfriendly. With numerous examples following the progress of specific investigations and the methods used to discover their final resting place, this is a fascinating read which lifts the lid on an aspect of the Second World War which has received little or no prior attention.

Pegasus Archive - Mark Hickman

This is a fascinating book, full of anecdotes. As I mentioned in my introduction, I can't remember the last time I learnt so much from one book about a subject I knew very little about, and a subject that I should know a lot about at that. It certainly adds to my grasp of researching 'missing' airmen, and adds a vital puzzle to understanding their stories.

Daly History Blog

Missing Believed Killed: Casualty Policy and the Missing Research Enquiry Service 1939-1952 by Stuart Hadaway

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that has ever shed such light on something that I have worked on in the past. I’ve written about plenty of men – particularly airmen – who were lost during the Second World War – and reading about the work of the Missing Research Enquiry Service has helped me gain a much better understanding of the process involved in tracing missing men during and after the war. I guess it’s one of those things that we don’t tend to think about too much, but how did we get from the height of the war, with thousands of men being lost in action – many of fate unknown – to the neatly-kept Commonwealth War Cemeteries and Memorials to the Missing of today?

As the war was ongoing, the RAF maintained a Casualty Branch that dealt with information about men lost – either killed, taken prisoner or missing – over enemy territory. This involved collating intelligence – in some cases from the enemy via the Red Cross – to maintain personnel records, and inform next of kin. Many bereaved relatives of course received a terse Government Service telegram. But it is the fate of those thousands of missing airmen that concerns us most in this book. Early in the war it was recognised that the RAF’s apparatus for tracing missing airmen was inadequate – hence the birth of the Missing Research Section in 1941. Collecting and collating intelligence reports from a variety of sources, this information provided a basis for post-war inquiries.

With the liberation of Europe ongoing, in December 1944 the MRS was expanded into the Missing Research and Enquiry Service, and small teams were sent to France and then the rest of Europe to gradually seek the missing men. Initially the MRES consisted of only 14 men, which was soon found to be nowhere near enough. With 42,000 men missing in Europe alone, this was quite some task.

One thing that really struck me is how few people were working in this field, and dealing with so many cases. And it was extensive work – travelling, working on intelligence, talking to locals, and being present at exhumations. It certainly wasn’t a job for the faint of heart. Thousands of men were lost over thousands of square miles of Europe, let alone other continents such as South East Asia, which posed problems all of its own.

The manner in which some men were identified is quite intriguing. For the most part, RAF identity discs perished quickly in soil, so identification was left to items such as uniforms, rings, or even paperwork that had survived stuffed in pockets. It was detective work of the highest order, which in some respects a historian of war casualties can both sympathise with and admire.

I think especially of men such as Flight Lieutenant Patrick McCarthy DFC and Flight Sergeant Francis Compton DFM, men who were shot down over occupied Europe and must have gone through the process of having their crash sites and burial locations being traced and identified by the MRES.

This is a fascinating book, full of anecdotes. As I mentioned in my introduction, I can’t remember the last time I learnt so much from one book about a subject I knew very little about, and a subject that I should know a lot about at that. It certainly adds to my grasp of researching ‘missing’ airmen, and adds a vital puzzle to understanding their stories.

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About the Author

Review this product

Top reviews from Australia

Top reviews from other countries

Very little has been written on the important work of the MRES during and after WWII so this study can justly be called ground breaking. Hadaway goes into great detail providing reams of technical information on his subject and this volume is clearly the result of careful research and hard work.

He manages to balance the technical aspects of seeking out the wreck sites and recovering the bodies with the commemorative nature of the work skilfully. The scale of the losses for the RAF is staggering and the work carried out by this little known unit is well worth reading about. Though I suspect that British readers will be primarily interested in the MRES activities in Great Britain, France and Germany, the contribution of the Commonwealth nations is referred to and there are chapters covering the Far East and the Mediterranean/Middle East etc.

A good deal of extra infomation is provided in the appendices and the book benefits from far more photographic illustration than I would expect from a volume of this kind (over 90 photographs). Overall this is a well written book on a very intriguing and thought provoking subject. I strongly recommend it.


Missing Believed Killed: Casualty Policy and the Missing Research and Enquiry Service 1939-1952

During the early years of World War Two it soon became apparent that the system for tracing the whereabouts of the remains of RAF aircrew deemed 'Missing Believed Killed' was totally inadequate. The Missing Research Section (MRS) of the Air Ministry was set up in late 1941 to deal with this increasing problem. It collected and collated intelligence reports from a wide variety of official, unofficial and covert sources in an attempt to establish the fate of missing aircrew.

Increasingly this included forensic or semi-forensic work to identify personal effects passed on through clandestine channels or bodies washed up on Britain's shores.In December 1944 the MRS was expanded and a small team of fourteen men, named the Missing Research and Enquiry Service (MRES), was sent to France to seek the missing men on the ground. With 42,000 men missing, the amount that fourteen men could achieve was naturally limited, so in July and August 1945 a series of meetings at the Air Ministry decided on the rapid expansion of the MRES to over twenty-five times its current size, split between six units with set geographical areas of responsibility.

This book explains why, in their own words, men volunteered for the job, and why they worked for so long at such a gruesome task.Each faced difficulties in terrain and climate, all the way from the Arctic Circle to the jungles of Burma. Local populations, essential to much of the MRES's work, ranged from the immensely friendly to the openly hostile teams had to operate in Germany, only recently razed from end to end by the aircrews they were seeking and then also behind an ever solidifying Iron Curtain. The final chapters explain how to trace RAF members through both personnel and operational records, show where these records are kept and explain how to access them.

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About the Author

Review this product

Top reviews from Australia

Top reviews from other countries

Very little has been written on the important work of the MRES during and after WWII so this study can justly be called ground breaking. Hadaway goes into great detail providing reams of technical information on his subject and this volume is clearly the result of careful research and hard work.

He manages to balance the technical aspects of seeking out the wreck sites and recovering the bodies with the commemorative nature of the work skilfully. The scale of the losses for the RAF is staggering and the work carried out by this little known unit is well worth reading about. Though I suspect that British readers will be primarily interested in the MRES activities in Great Britain, France and Germany, the contribution of the Commonwealth nations is referred to and there are chapters covering the Far East and the Mediterranean/Middle East etc.

A good deal of extra infomation is provided in the appendices and the book benefits from far more photographic illustration than I would expect from a volume of this kind (over 90 photographs). Overall this is a well written book on a very intriguing and thought provoking subject. I strongly recommend it.


Tag Archives: Flight sergeant

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that has ever shed such light on something that I have worked on in the past. I’ve written about plenty of men – particularly airmen – who were lost during the Second World War – and reading about the work of the Missing Research Enquiry Service has helped me gain a much better understanding of the process involved in tracing missing men during and after the war. I guess it’s one of those things that we don’t tend to think about too much, but how did we get from the height of the war, with thousands of men being lost in action – many of fate unknown – to the neatly-kept Commonwealth War Cemeteries and Memorials to the Missing of today?

As the war was ongoing, the RAF maintained a Casualty Branch that dealt with information about men lost – either killed, taken prisoner or missing – over enemy territory. This involved collating intelligence – in some cases from the enemy via the Red Cross – to maintain personnel records, and inform next of kin. Many bereaved relatives of course received a terse Government Service telegram. But it is the fate of those thousands of missing airmen that concerns us most in this book. Early in the war it was recognised that the RAF’s apparatus for tracing missing airmen was inadequate – hence the birth of the Missing Research Section in 1941. Collecting and collating intelligence reports from a variety of sources, this information provided a basis for post-war inquiries.

With the liberation of Europe ongoing, in December 1944 the MRS was expanded into the Missing Research and Enquiry Service, and small teams were sent to France and then the rest of Europe to gradually seek the missing men. Initially the MRES consisted of only 14 men, which was soon found to be nowhere near enough. With 42,000 men missing in Europe alone, this was quite some task.

One thing that really struck me is how few people were working in this field, and dealing with so many cases. And it was extensive work – travelling, working on intelligence, talking to locals, and being present at exhumations. It certainly wasn’t a job for the faint of heart. Thousands of men were lost over thousands of square miles of Europe, let alone other continents such as South East Asia, which posed problems all of its own.

The manner in which some men were identified is quite intriguing. For the most part, RAF identity discs perished quickly in soil, so identification was left to items such as uniforms, rings, or even paperwork that had survived stuffed in pockets. It was detective work of the highest order, which in some respects a historian of war casualties can both sympathise with and admire.

I think especially of men such as Flight Lieutenant Patrick McCarthy DFC and Flight Sergeant Francis Compton DFM, men who were shot down over occupied Europe and must have gone through the process of having their crash sites and burial locations being traced and identified by the MRES.

This is a fascinating book, full of anecdotes. As I mentioned in my introduction, I can’t remember the last time I learnt so much from one book about a subject I knew very little about, and a subject that I should know a lot about at that. It certainly adds to my grasp of researching ‘missing’ airmen, and adds a vital puzzle to understanding their stories.


Missing Believed Killed: Casualty Policy and the Missing Research and Enquiry Service 1939-1952

Very little has been written on the important work of the MRES during and after WWII so this study can justly be called ground breaking. Hadaway goes into great detail providing reams of technical information on his subject and this volume is clearly the result of careful research and hard work.

He manages to balance the technical aspects of seeking out the wreck sites and recovering the bodies with the commemorative nature of the work skilfully. The scale of the losses for the RAF is staggering and the work carried out by this little known unit is well worth reading about. Though I suspect that British readers will be primarily interested in the MRES activities in Great Britain, France and Germany, the contribution of the Commonwealth nations is referred to and there are chapters covering the Far East and the Mediterranean/Middle East etc.

A good deal of extra infomation is provided in the appendices and the book benefits from far more photographic illustration than I would expect from a volume of this kind (over 90 photographs). Overall this is a well written book on a very intriguing and thought provoking subject. I strongly recommend it.


Missing, Believed Killed: Casualty Policy and the Missing Research and Enquiry Service 1939-1952, Stuart Hadaway - History

B etween 7&ndashNovember&ndash1945 and 28&ndashJuly&ndash1947 I was one of the operatives for the R.C.A.F. with the R.A.F. / Commonwealth Forces Missing Research & Enquiry Service (M.R.E.S.) based in Europe.

M y initial assignment was Scandinavia and once this was completed I moved on to the American zone of Germany.

T he Missing Research and Enquiry Service (M.R.E.S.) was set up at the end of WW2 with a mandate to locate Commonwealth forces personnel who had gone missing or had died in missions over enemy held territory.

T he MRES turned into a worldwide organization that took the search to the battlefields and scoured millions of square miles to account individually for and bury their list of missing men and women. As the missing were found, they were ticked off of the list.

T he FOREWARD to the Air Ministry REPORT 55/65 Ref: 6.1 on the 1944 to 1949 MRES operation comments ". (activities) concern a novel, often unpleasant and arduous task. . but, in the results achieved very satisfying to the (search officers). Particular tribute must be paid to the part played in this work by the Dominion Air Forces and by the individual Dominion officers . This was a joint effort and the Dominions made their full contributions to it."

V ery little has been publically said or written about the important work of the MRES after WWII. The (recent) references listed in Appendix B and in particular the excellent 2008 Stuart Hadaway book "Missing Believed Killed: Casualty Policy and the Missing Research and Enquiry Service" Ref 6.2 and his Journal 42 Royal Air Force Historical Society paper shed some light on the operations of the Service. Results of the Service's investigations are closed for 99 years under U.K. laws and very little has been released by the British government. Certainly very little has been written about the Canadian contribution or involvement. Ref: 6.28, Ref: 6.29, Ref: 6.30
This is a bit surprising since of the 17,000 Canadian Flyers killed during WW 2, almost one third have no known grave.

I t is important to recognize the efforts of one Canadian, Squadron Leader William Mace Mair of the Royal Canadian Air Force, whose work was deemed so outstanding that the Royal Air Force recommended him for an Officer, Order of the British Empire award which was gazetted in January 1948.

The recommendation for S/L Mair's award stated in part: " He has taken a large and responsible part in the initial organization of this Branch of the Service (MRES). He is entirely responsible for the exhumation procedure now in use, which he evolved from his own experience of research work in the field, and the application of his methods has enabled a large number of missing aircrew to be traced. Apart from being a most efficient officer, Squadron Leader Mair subordinates everything to his official duties and does not spare himself. He has continuously worked for long hours in an endeavour to perfect the organization and much of the success of the Missing Research and Enquiry Service is due to his foresight, planning and energy. The Missing Research Enquiry Units have a thankless and at times horrible task to perform but their importance cannot be too strongly emphasized. Squadron Leader Mair's work is particularly noteworthy ."

( S/L William Mair was assigned to the Missing Research and Enquiries Section (MRES) in December 1944. Mair was next assigned to Europe as part of the British Air Force of Occupation where he worked with the British and American Graves Registration units. He was repatriated to Canada in September 1947 at which time he retired.)

W ith this account, I will provide a limited, but sufficient, insight into some of the day&ndashto&ndashday workings of the units I was associated with. I'm told that every single RAF casualty file still exists in a huge secure depository at Hayes, UK. The problem is that the files are to be "weeded" of sensitive personal information before release. That is a gargantuan task and I cannot imagine how or by when it will be done, if ever.

(It should be noted however that the final relevant M.R.E.U. report, minus exhumation records, were forwarded to the appropriate Dominion air forces (R.C.A.F., R.A.A.F., R.NZ.A.F.) for inclusion in service records for their MIA/KIA.
For R.A.A.F. crewmen, certain declassified service, repatriation and MREU records that have gone through the vetting process can be accessed on-line Ref 6.22 .
For R.C.A.F. crewmen, certain declassified service and MREU reports that have gone through the vetting process can be requested from the ATIP & Personnel Records Division of the Canadian Archives in Ottawa Ref 6.23 . )

Background into Formation of the The Royal, Dominion and Allied Forces Missing Research and Enquiry Service (MRES) 1944-1952

"Around the world I search for thee. "

T he web site "RAF Missing Research Enquiry Service (MRES)" Ref: 6.3 nicely summarizes the background to the formation of the MRES.

&ldquo D uring the 1939&ndash1945 war, over 40,000 airmen from the RAF and Allied Air Forces were reported as missing on operations or routine flights.
The responsibility of establishing, as far as was possible, what had happened to these men, fell to the Air Ministry Casualty Branch.

D uring the early years of WW2 it soon became apparent that the system for tracing the remains of aircrew deemed "Missing Believed Killed" was totally inadequate. The Missing Research Section (M.R.S.) of the Air Ministry was set up in 1941 to deal with this problem. It collected and collated intelligence reports from a wide variety of official, unofficial and covert sources in an attempt to establish the fate of missing aircrew, using forensic or semi-forensic work to identify personal effects passed on through clandestine channels or bodies washed up on Britain's shores.

T he task was enormous, and made particularly difficult due to the nature of air operations where an aircraft might be lost at any point from take off to landing back at base.

D uring the war years, investigation of missing aircraft and crews was hampered because of the difficulty in obtaining information at long range from overseas in occupied countries. Information about the fate of the missing airmen reached the Casualty Branch in various ways.

T he missing aircraft investigations were carried out from an office in London and relied primarily on the International Red Cross with its headquarters in Geneva.

F rom time to time the International Red Cross Commision received from enemy sources news of casualties which they passed on to London. The "news" was incorporated into long telegrams referring to numerous crews. Each item in the telegram might include a date, a type of aircraft and the fate of some or all of its occupants, known or unknown: thus " 8/4 Lancaster: Smith, Jones captured Robinson, Brown and two unknown dead".
The place of crash was not mentioned and no burial particulars given.

T he I.R.C.C. telegram was usually followed by a schedule called by the Germans a "Totenliste, or Death List". This most often confirmed the data in the IRCC telegram and sometimes gave a burial place. For security reasons the place of crash was not given.

O ther sources of information during the war were reports from allied agents in enemy or enemy&ndashoccupied territory, from the French, Dutch, Norwegian etc. Red Cross country organizations forwarded by permission of the Germans, from French organizations such as the Anciens Combattants ( roughly corresponding to the British Legion) and from Air Attaches and others in neutral countries.

U sing these scraps of information, together with known details about which aircraft and crews had been reported missing, investigators could begin to build a picture as to the fate of some of the missing airmen. The information received was often obscure in the extreme and its solution demanded considerable detective ability.

A fter D&ndashDay and the liberation of parts of Europe, it was possible to make fuller investigations. Now it was possible to receive reports directly from the areas where the aircraft had crashed. Some captured German records helped, as did the many relics and personal effects that had been rescued from the scene by the people of occupied countries who had then hidden them from the Germans during the period of occupation.

I dentification of airmen who had died was assisted by the smallest of details such as a laundry mark on an item of clothing, the serial number on a service watch or the initials on a signet ring. It was painstaking and often harrowing work.

I n November 1944, the Head of the Casualty Branch and the Officer in Charge of Missing Research went to Paris, and during their visit it became apparent that there was a need for a single unit or branch to undertake and co-ordinate the work of investigating the many airmen who were missing. Consequently, in early 1945, The Royal Air Force Missing Research and Enquiry Service was founded.

W orking initially in France, Search Officers were dispatched to the places where aircraft were believed to have crashed. Their work involved interviewing local Mayors and their employees, local police, and anyone else likely to have information that would help.

T o begin with, the Casualty Branch sent Casualty Enquiry forms, detailing all known information to date about a particular aircraft and crew. The Search Officers worked with this information, adding to it where possible before writing a report to send back to London.

F rom the outset the M.R.E.S. worked in close cooperation with the Army Graves Service. The Army was responsible for the exhumation and concentration of graves into British / Dominion Military Cemeteries, and for their registration. A Dominion Air Force officer was normally present at the exhumation to help in the identification of bodies known or believed to belong to one of the Air Forces. Once all the facts and the burial place were known the M.R.E.S. arranged for the Graves Registration Directorate to register and mark the grave. When this was completed a case would be considered closed.

E ventually it was realized that due to the number of crashes to be investigated a more methodical approach to locating and investigating them would be required. After dealing with the Casualty Enquires from London, Search Officers would then search in their area village by village and district by district.

I n April 1945, a second Section was set up in Brussels. Eventually, sections were also established in Holland, Denmark, Norway, Italy and Germany. Searches were conducted in each of the countries by Officers working firstly from the Casualty Enquiries and thereafter by covering the country village by village, district by district.

W ith the increasing volume of enquiries as the MRES moved their searches into more and more countries there was a requirement to recruit more Search Officers. Therefore, in August 1945, the Air Ministry, without mentioning the type of work to be undertaken, sent a letter asking for volunteers to work overseas.

T hose who volunteered then reported to the Air Ministry Casualty Branch to be interviewed for selection. During their selection interview they were told the type of work that they would be required to do if selected. The volunteers then returned to their centers to await the decision of the Air Ministry.

V olunteers selected after this interview were then asked to return to the Air Ministry Casualty Branch to attend two days of lectures regarding the type of work that they were to undertake with the MRES. After being given time to arrange any personal matters in the UK, they reported to St James House in London on August 30 th and were flown overseas to complete their training in the field.

A fter spending around a week in the field accompanying existing experienced Search Officers, they joined a Section. The Sections generally comprised a Commanding Officer and Six Search Officers. These Officers then commenced their own investigations in the countries that they were dispatched to with their Section."

F or 5 years teams of the MRES, led almost entirely by ex&ndashcrew officers, scoured Europe, the Middle East and the Far East for missing believed killed airmen. Crash sites and graves needed to be found, and then identified. To close a case would involve the exhumation of bodies that had been extracted from wrecks and may have been buried, often several to a grave.

T he MRES activities were actually closed down in 1949 in Europe and 1952 in the Far East (Korean War) against the recommendations of its staff &ndash who still maintained that there was further work to be done. However public and political demands to cut budgets won out.

MAGNITUDE OF THE PROBLEM FACING M.R.E.S. & INITIAL MANPOWER COMPOSITION OF M.R.E.S.

S ome 70,000 RAF aircrew (including Commonwealth aircrew who fought with the RAF) had been killed in WWII. (The Royal Air Force will be taken to mean all of those Commonwealth and Allied forces who served under the direction and command of the British RAF. Allied in this context does not however include the Americans who, of course, operated separately.)

O f these, some 57,000 were from Bomber Command alone, and more than two thirds of these Bomber Command crew had no known fate.

A round the world, 41,881 men and women had simply disappeared and were listed as missing, believed killed. The bulk of them, some 37,000 of them were missing believed killed in Europe. Tens of thousands of RAF personnel still lay in their aircraft, or buried in hurried and poorly marked graves. The public simply expects the debts of "the many" to "the few" to be paid in full. There was no precedent in history to follow&ndashup on the missing, presumed dead, casualties as a consequence of long range bombings and air missions.

A ccording to (page 15) MRES Report 55/65 Ref: 6.1 , the approximate break down of missing aircrew personnel in % proportions of British, Australian, Canadian, New Zealand and other Allied forces, which influenced the initial manpower make up of the MRES, was:

Allied (Polish, French, etc) 4%

F or the R.C.A.F. circa July 1946 this meant some 30 Canadian officers and 40 airmen were attached to the MRES.

EUROPEAN COUNTRIES SEARCHED by MR&ES 1944 &ndash 1949

T he European seach areas coverd by the M.R.E.S. are illustrated in the map below Ref: 6.1 (taken from Page 27 of Report AR55/65)

M y search area while with the No. 3 M.R.E.S. included: Denmark, Norway (taking me to the north eastern tip of the country into the Arctic Circle) and later in the American Zone of Germany.



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The Life and Times of Hubert Brooks M.C. C.D.

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Finding the Missing

At the end of the Second World War, the Royal Air Force (and associated dominion forces) had some 41,881 personnel listed as missing, worldwide (C07-049-007). A large proportion of these were scattered throughout the European Continent from which, while the battles were still raging, reliable information was difficult to obtain. The unit set up to deal with the problem of searching for and identifying as many of the missing as possible went through a number of guises but is probably best known as the Missing Research and Enquiry Service (MRES). Their task was to investigate the fates of missing aircrew through records and by putting people ‘on the ground’ in Germany and the former occupied territories to interview local officials and civilians and, if necessary, open graves to find clues on the bodies themselves.

Author Stuart Hadaway, writing in a book called Missing Believed Killed: Casualty Policy and the Missing Research and Enquiry Service 1939-1952 (Pen & Sword Books Ltd 2012), notes that by the end of 1950, just 8,719 aircrew were still officially listed as missing, with 23,881 now having known graves and 9,281 formally recorded as lost at sea (p.7). This, having been achieved without the use of modern technologies such as DNA profiling, is an astonishing success rate.

Once a crashed aircraft had been located, authorities could trace the identity of that aircraft through serial numbers on any number of parts. Knowing which aircraft and squadron it came from, they could then determine which crew was flying in it when it went missing. Identification then often came down to a process of elimination: the body with the pilot’s brevet must be the pilot, for example… identity discs might have survived revealing the wireless operator… one air gunner might have had remnants of his Flight Sergeant’s stripes, which meant that the other body with an air gunner’s brevet must be the other gunner… and so on.

The MRES report of losses from the Lille raid of 10MAY44 (A04-071-017) records how the unit identified the body of F/O J.F. Tucker, who was from Doug Hislop’s 467 Squadron crew, flying in EE143. Post war, six graves in the commune of Hellemes, near Lille, were exhumed. In one was found the remains of an RAAF battle dress with an Air Gunner’s brevet, along with an officer-type shirt on the body. Tucker was at the time the only Australian officer air gunner missing from this operation who remained unaccounted for, and the investigating MRES officer was happy to accept identification on this basis.

It wasn’t always so straightforward however. Often German information was somewhat muddled by events. Hadaway cites the case of a man initially buried by the Germans as ‘Haidee Silver, 40851’, being traced by the service number to a Pilot Officer Michael Rawlinson, who had been wearing a silver bracelet that his father told the MRES had been given to him by a female relative, inscribed ‘From Haidee’ (p.39). Other men were identified through serial numbers on their standard-issue watches, for example, or through laundry labels on their clothing.

Tracing serial numbers through the many layers of RAF bureaucracy could be a tedious job. What fascinates me about the work they did is the detective effort involved, and how unorthodox methods sometimes yielded the key that unravelled the case. I suppose I can draw certain parallels with the historical research I have been carrying out as part of this project. Throughout the war, files were maintained in the MRES offices in London where any little snippet of information relating to cases was kept. The files would regularly be reviewed and cross-referenced with any new information that might have come in later to see if anything jumped out. One little snippet could lead to another, which lead to another, which might have led up the garden path a bit until something else made sense of everything. And on so many of the cases, they were able to find a match.

Theirs was a gruesome and difficult task, and it was one that continued well after the war had ended and everyone else had ‘gone home’. But each case solved meant one more airman could be taken off the list of the missing. And one more family could have closure. For that, the investigators of the MRES deserve to be remembered.

This post was scheduled for some time in May but I brought it forward after tonight’s 60 Minutes program on Australian TV. Further post on that program is in the works!