Missing Believed Killed –
Casualty Policy and the Missing Research and Enquiry Service 1939-1952
By Stuart Hadaway
Pen and Sword (www.pen-and-sword.co.uk )
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During World War 2 it soon became apparent that the Royal Air Force’s system for tracing the remains of aircrew posted as missing or believed killed was being overwhelmed by the size of the task that it was facing. The RAF tried to identify the location of their remains but given the scale of losses this was a monumental task and hence the manner in which these operations were conducted had to be radically re-organised.
The “Missing Research Section” was created under the auspices of the Air Ministry in 1941. The MRS collected and collated intelligence reports from numerous official, unofficial and covert sources in order to attempt to establish the fate of missing crew members.
This task was often gruesome as forensic and semi-forensic analysis was required. Many bodies were exhumed and this analysis together with any personnel effects helped identification purposes. Sometimes personnel effects were passed via clandestine channels or via bodies washed-up on Britain’s shores.
December 1944 saw the MRS being re-organised and expanded. A team of 14 men was formed and was named the “Missing Research and Enquiry Service” (MRES). This unit entered France after D-Day and its objective was to locate missing men on the ground. There were 42,000 men missing and therefore the achievements of such a tiny team would be small in comparison of the magnitude of the task - regardless of how efficient and excellent the team was.
The RAF acknowledged the magnitude of the MRES’s task relative to its size. Hence, the Air Ministry in the summer of 1945 decided to expand it by 25 times. This new formation was split into six units and each was given a geographical area of responsibility.
This outstanding volume recounts the experiences and achievements of the MRS and MRES. There are the background stories of the men who volunteered for this service and why they opted for such a gruesome task. Each of the teams was faced with difficulties in terrain and climate. Also, the attitudes of local populations could be significantly varied and this reflected on the teams’ successes.
The art of graves registration and tracing missing personnel is one of the ghastly aspects of warfare and this book gives an excellent account of these formations efforts. It has a number of photographs of graves and cemeteries and the text is most interesting. Undoubtedly this book presents a fascinating story and congratulations are due to the author for his efforts. I have no doubt it will become the most important text on this subject.