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HMS London. Archeology or war-grave desecration?

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  • Mountain Man
    replied
    Originally posted by Surrey View Post
    Still a serving soldier killed in action while serving the monarch against a foreign foe, who was the direct ancestor of the current Queen.

    What if a skeleton of a ww1 soldier were kept as an anatomical specimen?
    Why not? A lot of useful information there before final internment.

    Forensic analysis was done on the bones of Custer's men and it provided some interesting insight into why Custer got massacred. What's the difference? Dead is DEAD, white the science of it can aid the living.

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  • MarkV
    replied
    Originally posted by Nick the Noodle View Post
    When you die, you are either permanently dead in body and spirit, or just dead in body. Either way the physical aspect of yourself is gone. You are not your bones after you die.

    OTOH, fighting for your cause, and knowing/being told that your body is sacrosanct, is an important morale element for an army. 'Everyone comes home' springs to mind, whether dead or alive.

    Perhaps it's an age thing. As a young man, I considered archaeological digs of graves amounting to desecration. These days, I consider that if my dead body can further science, then all for the best .
    British policy from 1914 was no one dead comes home. Everyone who died in a theatre of war would be buried there (unless their religion dictated cremation). Before then those whose family could afford it would have their body repatriated and those whose kith and kin could not remained. It was quickly realised that the scale of casualties would be greater than the government had the resources necessary to enable repatriation and it was deemed unfair if only the well off could bring bodies home and so all repatriation was forbidden. A small number who died in France and Flanders before the prohibition was enacted were brought back (including Field Marshal Lord Roberts but after that the only legal return appears to have been the unknown warrior. The organisation that became the Imperial Wargraves Commission (later the Commonwealth War Graves Commission) was established.

    Germany allowed those who could afford it to repatriate their relatives and visiting a German WW1 cemetery in Macedonia and seeing the effect of the gaps left where graves have been dug up and the bodies removed as a result of this policy has had on the general solemnity of the place I cannot but help thinking that the British policy was right.

    Nowadays given the more limited scale of wars Britain as adopted an everybody come home policy - its right to do so given that its possible.

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  • Nick the Noodle
    replied
    When you die, you are either permanently dead in body and spirit, or just dead in body. Either way the physical aspect of yourself is gone. You are not your bones after you die.

    OTOH, fighting for your cause, and knowing/being told that your body is sacrosanct, is an important morale element for an army. 'Everyone comes home' springs to mind, whether dead or alive.

    Perhaps it's an age thing. As a young man, I considered archaeological digs of graves amounting to desecration. These days, I consider that if my dead body can further science, then all for the best .

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  • MarkV
    replied
    Originally posted by Surrey View Post
    Still a serving soldier killed in action while serving the monarch against a foreign foe, who was the direct ancestor of the current Queen.

    What if a skeleton of a ww1 soldier were kept as an anatomical specimen?
    English law appears to have become somewhat muddled as the Human Tissues Act, The Anatomy Act and even the Human Rights Act all have some bearing but essentially to have custody of a skeleton now requires a licence usually only granted to a hospital (teaching) or a museum and they would need to prove that there were some substantial educational and/or medical benefits to be had from holding it. The age of the body would also be taken into consideration (and it has been suggested that common law gives less "protection" to one more than 150 years old) as would whether there were known relatives who might object. Given all this the situation to which you refer would almost certainly not get a licence .

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  • Surrey
    replied
    Originally posted by MarkV View Post
    I've a feeling that Scottish law differs from English in this regard

    Edit

    And his family line has died out so there are no living relatives which makes a difference. I think that the skeleton is in this case retained as an anatomical specimen.
    Still a serving soldier killed in action while serving the monarch against a foreign foe, who was the direct ancestor of the current Queen.

    What if a skeleton of a ww1 soldier were kept as an anatomical specimen?

    Leave a comment:


  • MarkV
    replied
    Originally posted by Surrey View Post
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10138060

    Why not go back further.

    A few years ago there was an episode of BBC's Cold Case series about a body buried in Stirling Castle.
    Unlike most of the episodes in the series they were able to positively identify the body. However despite this his bones now lie in a draw in Dundee University.

    He had originally been buried in a chapel so surely once the investigation is over he should have been re buried in a cemetery rather becoming an exhibit?
    I've a feeling that Scottish law differs from English in this regard

    Edit

    And his family line has died out so there are no living relatives which makes a difference. I think that the skeleton is in this case retained as an anatomical specimen.
    Last edited by MarkV; 28 Aug 16, 08:31.

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  • Surrey
    replied
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10138060

    Why not go back further.

    A few years ago there was an episode of BBC's Cold Case series about a body buried in Stirling Castle.
    Unlike most of the episodes in the series they were able to positively identify the body. However despite this his bones now lie in a draw in Dundee University.

    He had originally been buried in a chapel so surely once the investigation is over he should have been re buried in a cemetery rather becoming an exhibit?

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  • Nick the Noodle
    replied
    As a amateur historian, I would personally be delighted if my bones could reveal something of the past. Less desecration than greater education imho.

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  • MarkV
    replied
    Originally posted by Mountain Man View Post
    About one century will do it, from prior experience and historical records. Your country, Britain, is already excavating the trenches and bunkers from WWI which are all without exception "gravesites".
    Yes but there are strict official protocols and much of the excavation is involved with recovering and identifying remains, informing any descendants or other members of the family if possible and re interring with appropriate rites in an official CWGC site. I have met and talked with some of the people who worked on the Fromelles site recently and they were all properly authorised and trained in forensics. The work they do is extremely painstaking and properly documented, every care is taken to treat any remains with dignity (for example photographs can only be used for analysis intended to prove identity and may not be shown to the public). It is amazing how much can be done with bones and the occasional bit of tooth or hair. This has increased as science has advanced and analysis of the bone matter can reveal the area where the person was brought up and DNA can now be used to match with samples donated by possible family members. Things like buttons are useful but can be misleading - proximity when found does not necessarily prove an original connection. Unauthorised excavations are illegal in both France and Belgium and there have been prosecutions (including one totally irresponsible type who was transporting unexploded shells through the Channel Tunnel in his car)but the stupid and greedy alas are always with us.

    It should also be realised that when ever possible bodies were not buried in the trenches and considerable effort was made in 1919 to clear the trenches etc of any who where buried there and also to clear any temporary burial sites behind the line and re inter the dead in the CWGC cemeteries so that when excavating old bunkers, dug outs these days it is much less likely that bodies will be found. No mans land was likewise searched by volunteer recovery units. Nevertheless there were countless with no known grave (as the memorial at Theipval bears testimony to) and remains still contnue to be foud but this is usualy by sheer accident (such as a farmer excavating a drainage ditch) or through excellent detective work identifying lost burial sites (as at Fromelles) and much less as a by product of battlefield archeology.

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  • Mountain Man
    replied
    About one century will do it, from prior experience and historical records. Your country, Britain, is already excavating the trenches and bunkers from WWI which are all without exception "gravesites".

    Leave a comment:


  • MarkV
    replied
    Originally posted by VillyVonka View Post
    Does the legislation on war graves allow for de-listing of sites on an individual basis in the future?

    Once three or four generations out of living memory of the descendants, it becomes just archaeology IMHO. If I found I had an ancestor who had died at Naseby or Blenheim, and something could be learned through a study of battlefield remains, it wouldn't bother me in the slightest. I never knew the man, anybody who met him, or even the great grandchildren of anybody who met him. As long as operations are conducted professionally, remains treated with dignity under expert scrutiny and not by some fly-by-night salvage operation looking to turn a quick profit, then I would have no objection.

    Crucially any archaeology must be in the public interest looking to further knowledge of the events, any artifacts recovered exhibited for public viewing in a permanent museum as seems to be the case here.

    I do wonder at what point in the distant future it might be deemed acceptable to open the grave pits at Waterloo, excavate the Tranchée des Baïonnettes at Verdun or raise the wreck of the USS Arizona.
    https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poe...s/detail/45034

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  • VillyVonka
    replied
    Does the legislation on war graves allow for de-listing of sites on an individual basis in the future?

    Once three or four generations out of living memory of the descendants, it becomes just archaeology IMHO. If I found I had an ancestor who had died at Naseby or Blenheim, and something could be learned through a study of battlefield remains, it wouldn't bother me in the slightest. I never knew the man, anybody who met him, or even the great grandchildren of anybody who met him. As long as operations are conducted professionally, remains treated with dignity under expert scrutiny and not by some fly-by-night salvage operation looking to turn a quick profit, then I would have no objection.

    Crucially any archaeology must be in the public interest looking to further knowledge of the events, any artifacts recovered exhibited for public viewing in a permanent museum as seems to be the case here.

    I do wonder at what point in the distant future it might be deemed acceptable to open the grave pits at Waterloo, excavate the Tranchée des Baïonnettes at Verdun or raise the wreck of the USS Arizona.

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  • MarkV
    replied
    Originally posted by Mountain Man View Post
    Good question. Archaeology routinely finds bones at sites on land and sea - everywhere is someone's grave, after all. The British have done digs all over the tench sites of WWI, for example. I recently saw one done on the Somme that turned up bones.
    Remains are routinely turned up all over the Western Front and there are people who are both trained and accredited to excavate graves there. I've had conversations with some of them including some of those who have worked on the recently discovered mass graves at Fromelles. However what they do is to try and identify the dead who are then, if they are British or Commonwealth, re interred in a Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery. If they are French, Belgian, American or German the remains are passed on to the relevant authorities. Other information discovered as a by product of this is appropriately documented, preserved etc but it is a by product. It should be remembered that most of those interred in a CWG cemetery have been buried , disinterred and re buried at least once. Normally the dead were interred somewhere close to where they died and later exhumed and transferred to one of the larger grave sites.

    This applied almost everywhere My great uncle who DoW at Dorien was buried three times. Firstly just behind his battalion's position then later about a mile behind the lines and then finally after the war in a CWG cemetery in Greece about 20 miles away. This is not untypical on all fronts in all theatres.So there was nothing sacred about a particular grave.

    Contrary to some popular conceptions every effort was made to recover the dead and bury them and record the location. Unfortunately as with so many other WW1 military efforts this did not survive the effects of heavy artillery bombardments. Thus many (most?) of the remains discovered in recent times were probably originally recovered and interred with proper honours. Neither side wanted to forgo this and there are countless instances in battalion war diaries of truces to allow this. The original grave sites were obliterated in various offensives.

    To return to the naval sphere wrecks containing bodies were treated as war graves. In Britain legislation was enacted to confirm this and tampering with such was forbidden except in particular circumstances where the wreck might endanger peace time maritime traffic. AFAIK no time limitations , past or futire, were putg on this. Hence my question essentially stands - has this been changed and if so how?
    Last edited by MarkV; 06 Aug 16, 14:57.

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  • Mountain Man
    replied
    Good question. Archaeology routinely finds bones at sites on land and sea - everywhere is someone's grave, after all. The British have done digs all over the tench sites of WWI, for example. I recently saw one done on the Somme that turned up bones.

    What does the British government say about it? They have the final word, don't they?

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  • Half Pint John
    replied
    When does a wrecked war ship cease to be a war grave?
    It is or it isn't. From the looks of the London it offers much to be learned from that time. IMO if the remains are removed and given a respectful burial in English soil then no problem. It's not like people are going down and tossing the remains across the ocean floor.

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