Chaplains and Divisional/Corps Burial Returns

Field Service Regulations to Army Form W 3314 Chaplains/Burial Officer’s Report

The instructions covering reporting burial in the ‘field’ at the beginning of the Great War came from Field Service Regulations PT. II, which was originally published in 1909. The section in Field Service Regulations from which the extract is taken clearly relates the burial process to the reporting of the death of the casualty. Reporting burials and their location had not yet become a separate process.The regulations stated that:

‘3. Anyone concerned in burying a soldier, or finding a body after an action, will remove the identity disc and pay book, or, if a civilian, his pass, and will note the number of the equipment and rifle, or anything else likely to assist in identification.

4. Such person is responsible that this information is sent, with the least possible delay, to the nearest commander for transmission to the A.G. [Editor’s note: Adjutant General – A.G. stands for Adjutant General, he was the officer in charge of personnel matters, including burial, in the Army] (or as specifically ordered from general headquarters).’

From an extract from War Office (1909) Field Service Regulations Pt II. HMSO: London: pp. 165-166

A General Routine Instruction (G.R.O) 223 issued by the B.E.F. on 23rd October 1914 concerning Casualty Reports demonstrates that from early in the war Field Service Regulations were not always being followed, even when burial was taking place at a location not immediately in the front line such as a Field Ambulance or Casualty Clearing Station:


Attention is drawn to Field Service Regulations, Part II, Section 133 (3,4 and 5), more especially in regard to death that may occur among patients in the care of Field Ambulances or Clearing Hospitals. The necessary particulars, together with the identity disc and pay book, will be forwarded without delay to the D.A.G., 3rd Echelon, Base, together with an accurate note as to the place of burial.

In cases where burials have taken place in the past without the D.A.G. 3rd Echelon [Editor’s note:  3rd Echelon was a theatre of war based personnel administration organisation for each of the British expeditionary forces] being notified, immediate steps should be taken to supply his office with the necessary particulars.’

Solutions were applied by the Army to address the number of unreported burials from 1915 onwards.

One well-known solution to this problem was the work of Fabian Ware and the Red Cross which in 1915 became part of the Army as the Graves Registration Committee and in 1916 the Directorate of Graves Registration and Enquiries.

Another solution were systems which made specific individuals responsible for recording and reporting burials and it is this system and its records that are discussed there. Surviving C.W.G.C. evidence for this system can be seen in the listing of S.S.P. references on C.W.G.C. Graves Registration documents. See here for the S.S.P. system.

The S.S.P. acronym (the surviving sources tell us what S.S.P.s were, not what the acronym is, although the prominence of ‘Sheet’, ‘Square’ and ‘Place’ on the A.F. W.3314 returns suggests a possible solution) which is found on many of the cards in the enquiry files (usually on the right-hand side of the card) and in the Comprehensive and Concentration Reports is the acronym used to describe the reports and lists informing D.G.R.E. of a burial. Update: Since the original entry was written it has become clear that D.G.R.E. and I.W.G.C. clerks also often referred to individual entries from burial/Base reports referenced under specific numbers (e.g. ‘9703G’) rather than or in addition to the S.S.P. burial report file references. S.S.P. references seem to be the preferred route for noting specific burial references from linked to the complete burial report/list that a specific amendment comes from etc. (gathered together in an SSP file). See Burial Sheet or Return /Base Sheet [Numbers]:

Information reporting a burial which would lead to an S.S.P. file or a burial sheet/Base Sheet [Number] reference (could come from two different sources):

a) From a chaplain’s report (A.F.W. 3314 – often on a number of burials at the same map reference).

B.E.F. General Routine Order 149 of 29th September 1914 stated that:

‘All Chaplains will forward to the Principal Chaplain, General Head Quarters, 3rd Echelon, by post on Saturdays, a weekly return, giving the names, rank and regiment of all officers and soldiers whose burial they have attended, with details of the location and landmarks of the graves.

Officers or other who, in emergencies, conduct or have conducted burial services, will also comply with this order.’

Along with the work of Fabian Ware and the Red Cross, Routine Order 149 began the work of trying to ensure that burials by the B.E.F. (British Expeditionary Force) were recorded as laid down in Field Service Regulations and deserves to be much more widely known.

By June 1915 a replacement General Routine Order, 938 of 21st June 1915 had been issued which stated that the information should be sent directly to the department of the senior officer responsible for all manpower issues in the B.E.F., ‘…D.A.G. [Editor’s note: Deputy Adjutant General] 3rd Echelon…’ rather than through the Principal Chaplain. 1915 was also to be the year in which a standardised form to record this information, the Army Form W. 3314, first appeared.

The format of Army Form W. 3314 varied throughout the First World War. At the time of writing only one surviving completed example of this form has been identified. The surviving form was found in an Australian Red Cross Society Wounded and Enquiry Bureau file (for the original file click here) and a transcription of the blank form can be seen below:

A.F. W 3314 1918
Transcription of a A.F. W 3314 burial form in use in early 1918

The image of the surviving completed form can be found under Australian War Memorial (A.W.M), Australian Red Cross Society Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau files, 1914-18 1DRL/0428, 600 Private Edwin Henry Fryer, 3rd Machine Gun Company

Army Chaplain Everard Digby’s ‘Tips for Padres’ in its 1917 edition shows how the A.F. W. 3314 would have fitted into the practice of sending information on burials to the Army authorities after the Graves Registration Commission was incorporated into the British Army in March 1915. Digby states that it was part of an Army chaplain’s duty (or other officer who presided at a burial) to leave an identifiable grave ready to be registered. He also mentions that burial forms were submitted to D.G.R. & E. on Saturdays (which agrees with the September 1914 G.R.O., see above). Other information given by Digby on this topic relates to the marking of the grave. Information identifying the deceased was to be written on paper and placed on the grave in a partially buried bottle. Crosses were to be provided by the unit or later by the G.R.U. when they came to register the grave (see Digby, Everard (1917) Tips for Padres. Gale & Polden: Hampshire: pp. 85-6 quoted in Snape, Michael (2008) The Royal Army Chaplains’ Department – Clergy Under Fire. Boydell and Brewer: Woodbridge: p. 229).

The Graves Registration Report Forms for the Gallipoli and Middle Eastern campaigns are a reminder of the importance of information derived from these sources in the C.W.G.C. records for WW1, even if the completed A.F.W. 3314 forms no longer exist, with the name of the chaplain responsible for reporting burial often listed. An example can be found by clicking here.

A recently discovered I.W.G.C. transcription of a completed Canadian chaplain’s return  can be found in C.W.G.C. Archive Enquiry file CWGC/1/1/5/27, in a letter from R.W. Carter, at that time Deputy Controller/Assistant Director of Records working for the I.W.G.C. in France. In the letter dated 26 June 1923 he forwards a transcription of a copy of the form from the chaplain  who originally completed it, Edward Appleyard (the format used for the casualty details is clearly transcribed from an A.F. W 3314 burial report). Appleyard describes in the accompanying letter the dugout where the men died and having to return at night to read the burial service/place a cross because of the danger from enemy fire.

By 1918 copies of the form went to three different authorities, including the Director of Graves Registration and Enquiries in London, the Officer Commanding Graves Units in France and to 3rd Echelon (the B.E.F. personnel organisation at Rouen. Burials at different places/map references (which must be from a 1/40,000 map) were not to be placed on the same A.F. W 3314 form, details of units, names, date of death etc. were to be clearly recorded and graves to be properly marked. (For example see Commonwealth War Graves Commission (G.W.G.C.) CWGC/1/1/1/38/2 Add 3/1/3 Directorate of Graves Registration and Enquiries – Standing Orders and Technical Instructions: D.G.R.E. Technical Instructions, Revised to 1st February 1918, pp. 4-5)

The utility of having the original burial reports available after the War in helping to identify exhumed bodies is made clear in the 1928 Times War Graves of the Empire which seems to be an expression of I.W.G.C. experience and views at the end of the 1920s :

‘And sometimes, in the weekly list of British bodies recovered from the old battlefields even in this present year, there may be four men recovered from one place. One, for example, has a disk with the name and unit of Private Smith, one is a lance-corporal, two are unidentified. But a chaplain’s return is found in the records which reports the burial of Lance-Corporal Jones, the same Private Smith, and two other named men at a map reference corresponding with the grave now discovered. The grave of the lance-corporal and Private Smith are now duly recorded, and marked by single headstones; the other two, at the least, will have their names on it…’

From The Times (1929) War Graves of The Empire: Reprinted from the Special Number of the Times November 10, 1928. Times: London p. 23

b. Divisional and Corps Burial Officers Reports

From late 1916 Army Divisions had their own burial officers, their role being to organise both burial and better reporting of burial for the units within their Divisions. By 1917 Corps which were made up of two or more Divisions also had their own burial officers, Corps Burial Officers responsible for coordinating the work of burial and reporting of burial across the Divisions in their Corps.

A surviving Enquiry Card (Preliminary) for a Private Higginson (for the C.W.G.C. register entry for Higginson click here) survives in C.W.G.C. Archive Enquiry file YP 2/962  and the preliminary burial report has the reference S.S.P.3948/6 and 31/D.B.O., as it was submitted by the 31st Division Burial Officer. Private Higginson[1] was from the 11th Battalion East Yorkshire Regiment which had been part of this division since its formation in 1915 (it had been originally formed under a different number in 1914). The 31st Division briefly served in Egypt on the Suez Canal at the beginning of 1916 before arriving in France in March 1916 and remaining in France and Belgium until the end of the War.  Frank Becke who compiled an order of battle or list of units, locations and statistics for all the Commonwealth Divisions in WW1 states that ‘During the Great War the 31st Division lost 30,091 killed, wounded, and missing’ (All information from Major A.F. Becke (2007) History of the Great War: Order of Battle of Divisions, Part 3b New Army Divisions (30-41) and 63rd (R.N.) Division, Uckfield: Naval & Military Press Ltd, pp. 11-19). The dashed line at the top of the card indicates that Higginson’s regimental number, a vital part of verifying a casualty’s identity, had not been passed to the D.B.O. Although the cemetery is noted on the card (‘Cinq Rue Bri Cem’) the clerk has also not included the map reference of the burial. This could have been found by going back to the S.S.P. referenced report, but it is often written on the card where it is known for future convenience.

A transcription of a surviving Corps Burial Officer’s report  taken from National Archives (TNA) WO 95/649/4, Headquarters Branches and Services: Adjutant and Quarter-Master General: II Corps Circular Memorandum No. 21: Burial of the Dead (28th June 1917) follows:


The responsibilities of corps and divisional burial officers and all members of the Army to make sure that details of burial are reported accurately and passed to on the G.R.U.s and D.G.R.E. is made clear in this instruction from the June 1917 instructions for the D.G.R.E.:

‘Circular Memorandum D.G.R. & E. 8.

‘ ‘‘With reference to the A.G.’s [Editor’s note: A.G. stands for Adjutant General, he was the officer in charge of personnel matters including burial in the Army, his Department for the B.E.F. was based at Rouen by 1916] memorandum to Armies…regarding burials under exceptional conditions due to heavy fighting, the following are the steps it is necessary to take at the time of burial so that the Graves Registration Units may subsequently complete the marking and registration of the graves and that the killed may, wherever possible, be identified. These will be communicated to the officer detailed by each Corps under the above-quoted A.G.’s Memorandum by the O.C. Graves Registration Unit in the Corps area.

          1. The identification of bodies should generally present little difficulty when all officers and men have been provided with two identity discs (Army Order No. V of 24th September, 1916). When, however, the Identity Disc No 1 Green is not found on a body (with which it is to be buried) other evidence of identification should, whenever possible, be noted, e.g. regimental badges, tabs and measurement and description of body.
          2. A record will be kept giving the name, regimental number, rank, regiment and battalion and date of death (or where these cannot be ascertained the evidence of identification referred to above) of each body buried and the exact position of the grave, if possible, with reference to woods, houses, cross roads, kilometer stones, &c. ; where trenches are used a number indicating the position of each body in the different rows should, when possible, be given, stating at which end of the trench, by reference to the points of the compass, the series of numbers begins.
          3. Copies of these records or lists of burials should be sent immediately to (1) D.A.G. [Editor’s note: Deputy Adjutant General], General Head Quarters, 3rd Echelon, and (2) D.G.R. & E., War Office, Winchester House, St James’s Square, London, S.W.1, and arrangements will also be made so that a copy may be obtained without delay by the O.C. Graves Registration Unit in the Corps area…” ‘

From Commonwealth War Graves Commission (G.W.G.C.) CWGC/1/1/1/38/2 38 Add 3/1/3 Directorate of Graves Registration and Enquiries – Instructions 30th June 1917, pp. 6-7

The role played by corps and divisional burial officers from 1916 in supervising Chaplains in this role can be seen in the same June 1917 instructions:

‘Duties of Chaplains.

Paragraphs 14 and 15 of “Instructions to Chaplains” are material, and are reprinted:-

14. Notes on Burials during an advance or heavy fighting.

The foregoing instructions present little difficulty during trench warfare; but in an advance or during heavy fighting it is essential that every Chaplain should keep himself in touch with the Corps or Divisional Burial Officer, and follow out the instructions laid down by him or the Corps or Division Headquarters as regards the burial of officers and men.”

“No Chaplain should decide on a plan for the burial of deceased officers and men without first endeavouring to obtain the authority of the Corps or Divisional Burial Officer….” ‘

From Commonwealth War Graves Commission C.W.G.C. Archive CWGC/1/1/1/38/2 38 Add 3/1/3 Directorate of Graves Registration and Enquiries – Instructions 30th June 1917, p. 11

The accumulation of knowledge gained by 1917 can be seen in the 1917 II Corps instruction transcribed in full below, which describes in great detail the role of Divisional troops and the divisional burial officer in burying and recording the identity of the dead following battle. The co-ordination of the work of the chaplains in reporting burials is also mentioned. A full transcription (including the attached burial return) follows. It represents a number of similar instructions issued through routine orders (corps and division) in the last three years of the War. The instruction also makes clear an important qualification, Corps and Divisional Burial Officers were not permanent appointments (see below). The soldiers assisting them in identifying and burying the dead were mostly until the Armistice ordinary fighting soldiers, with some assistance as the instruction makes clear from 1917 from the Labour Corps.


Canadian Corps Burial Report

From Libraries and Archives Canada, RG9-III-D-3. Volume/box number4821. File number30: A.A. and Q.M.G. Canadian Corps War Diary August 1918: Appendix “G” which can be found via

War Office Copies of Burial Returns and Reports

A letter received from ‘R” Records, the part of the War Office responsible for archiving and weeding the WW1 related records of the British Army stated that the copies they had of these reports were sent to the I.W.G.C. in July 1921 (WG 219/4 Memorials to the Missing: Nominal Rolls & Battalion Ledgers: Lists of. J.R. Nelson “R” Records War Office to Fabian Ware (10 July 1921)).

Imperial War Museum Blank Copies of Early Burial Returns Donated by I.W.G.C. in 1932

Blank copies of a number of forms, including early versions of the A.F. 3314 Burial Return (the earliest is from 1915) and Divisional Burial Officer’s return were given to the Imperial War Museum by Henry Chettle the Director of Records at the I.W.G.C. The reference to the collection of forms of which they form part can be found here: