‘My Son Tom’ whose title is inspired by that magnificently poignant poem by Rudyard Kipling ‘My Boy Jack’ all about his son, John Kipling, who was killed on the Western Front in 1915.
With the talk, Richard McKenzie, will be introducing to the audience the idea behind the creation of the Graves Registration Unit and the official documents that were sent out to families who had lost loved ones during the war.
With so many dead and dying, all over the world, the War Office realised early on in the war that very soon there would be a problem keeping track of the thousands of graves. As a consequence they were delighted when Fabian Ware, an ambulance officer, came forward with the idea of a registration unit to record where the dead were buried. By May 1916 the newly created Graves Registration Unit was managing 50,000 graves.
At the same time as sending members of the team to record the locations of fresh graves, the GRU also found itself the focus for the grieving families left at home. As a result the remit for the unit expanded and they started to send out official communications to the families informing them where the grave was located and a photograph of it.
It is with these communications that this talk will start. To many families this simple telegram and photograph was all they had left of their loved one and as a result they were treasured items.
As the war ended the families would use the information from these documents to try and contact the War Office so that they could visit the grave now that peace had been declared. It is with these letters that the second half of the talk will focus. Often desperate and understandably keen to visit the site of their loved ones grave so that they may mourn properly the families were often left stunned and even outraged when they received information back to tell them that the grave could no longer be found.
For many this is where it ended, but for some, a lost grave was simply not good enough. How could a government be so callous as to simply state that the grave cannot be found, when it was their loved one who died to support those men in office. For these people finding their son’s grave became something of a crusade as they begged and pestered anyone that would listen to try and get their loved one found. This is where we end the talk, with those desperately poignant letters and the plight of the families as they struggled to come to terms with what, in essence was, the final tragedy of The Great War.