Dame Adelaide Livingstone’s Mission and Missing Prisoners of War

Dame Adelaide Livingstone’s Mission: Dame Adelaide Livingstone (1881-1970) was a citizen of the United States who became a U.K. citizen by marriage in 1915. A full biography of Dame Adelaide can be found in the Dictionary of National Biography (a pay website available free to many U.K. residents through local library services): http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/52029

Famous for being one of the organisers of the 1936 Peace Ballot in the United Kingdom, Dame Adelaide worked whilst still an American citizen to get British civilians trapped in occupied Belgium back to the United Kingdom and investigated the treatment of British P.O.W.s before the end of the War. However it is in the guise of her work trying to trace thousands of ‘missing’ British P.O.W.s after the war, in Germany and parts of Europe controlled by the Germans that she is of the greatest importance, for example the image below is that of a completed special exhumation form for an exhumation carried out on behalf of her commission in the region covered by the Aisne and Marne unit of the D.G.R. & E. (see D.G.R. & E.) in France in 1920 (the subject of the burial was not identified):

Exhumation for Dame Livingstone file
‘Dame [Adelaide] Livingstone is mentioned under Distribution at the bottom of the page. A link to the form in the C.W.G.C. Casualty Archive can be found here: http://archive.cloud.cwgc.org/archive/doc/doc2618950.JPG
The Mission arrived in Belgium in July 1919 (National Archives (TNA) file FO 383/499 Germany: Prisoners, including: Search for prisoners of war missing or sick in Germany: Telegram, 23rd July 1919. p. 367)

The following story appeared in a Scottish newspaper in December 1919. In the absence of archival material covering the work, methods and membership of the Mission in the second half of 1919 the article is very helpful in providing snippets of information in all of these areas:

Missing Soldiers.

Tracing the Graves in France and Flanders.

        The War Office announces that for some months past a special mission appointed by the War Office to inquire for missing soldiers in Belgium and Northern France has been making the most systematic inquiries in these countries, endeavouring among other things to ascertain as far as possible the precise location and identity of graves of British soldiers hitherton unaccounted for.
This mission originally consisted of General Sir Malcolm McIlwraith, General C.D. Bruce and Dame Adelaide Livingstone. After General McIlwraith’s resignation to take up another appointment Lord James Murray, who had been a prisoner in German hands, joined the mission [Editor’s note: .
Valuable help was given by Cardinal Mercier, the Belgian Minister of the Interior, and the Princess of Croy.

Unknown Graves Located.

          Previous to the appointment of this special mission, the graves directorate had visited the regions formerly occupied by the Germans to mark and register all known graves. The value of the work performed by the special mission, however, lies particularly in the fact that by the most diligent and searching local inquiries, conducted even in the remotest villages, and by interviews with burgomasters, priests, and all who were likely to be in a position to vouchsafe information, the efforts of the graves directorate have been usefully supplemented, and numerous graves which were unknown except to Belgian or French private individuals were discovered.
A remarkable instance of the thoroughness of the mission’s search is afforded by the case of a grave at Eth, which was reputed locally to be that of a sergeant. Inquiries, however, elicited the fact that the grave was that of a second lieutenant, regiment unknown.
The actual finder of the body, who was then interviewed, after stating that the British officer had been shot through the head by a machine-gun bullet, produced the officer’s helmet, which he had carefully retained as evidence. On the chin-strap were the remains of some writing in indelible pencil which established the identity of the officer beyond all reasonable doubt.

A Photograph Clue.

          Naturally in the course of the mission’s investigation in the occupied district, the relics of the dead afforded evidence of many poignant incidents. A solitary grave on the road to Elouges was found marked-“Unknown British soldier. Died 24/8/14.” The man who buried him was interviewed, and showed the mission the photograph of a woman which was found in the man’s right hand clasped against his heart. At the bottom of the card, which contained a cheerful message from the original, was the name of the hitherto unindentified man.
When the work of the mission has been completed in close co-operation with the directorate of graves, the public may rest assured that all that can be done has been done to trace the missing.’

From The Aberdeen Weekly Journal, 12 December 1919.

References to exhumation work for Dame Adelaide Livingstone’s Commission are scattered throughout the Cemetery records of the C.W.G.C., for example see Captain C.M. Carbert (Concentration documents): http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/163508/CARBERT,%20C%20M where it is stated that the graves mentioned have been ‘Exhumed for the purposes of identification but none found. Dame Adelaide Livingstone informed.’ The G.R.R. form containing this information was also submitted in 1920. Dame Adelaide continued her work with the D.G.R. & E. (as Assistant Director Graves Registration & Enquiries (Central Europe)) between 1920 to April 1922.

Following the completion of the handover from D.G.R. & E (Central Europe) to the I.W.G.C. in April 1922 Dame Adelaide submitted a report on her work in Germany to the British Army Adjutant General (a copy also went to the I.W.G.C.) that has not survived (see C.W.G.C. Archive WG 436/1 Box 1037 Graves of British Prisoners of War – Germany. Lord Arthur Browne Principal Assistant Secretary to Captain Simpson, P.S. to the Adjutant General War Office (6 July 1923). Similarly roughly thirty progress reports on the work of the Directorate in Germany and Central Europe sent to the War Office between 1920-1922 and mentioned in the same file have not survived (Ibid. 19 July 1923), with the exception of Report No. 8 which covers the work of the Directorate in the period 28 April to 12 May 1921 (see C.W.G.C. Archive WG 514 Denmark -General File. Dame Adelaide Livingstone A.D.G.R. & E. Central Europe to Major General-General B.F. Burnett-Hitchcock, C.B., D.S.O., Director-General of Graves Registration & Enquiries, War Office (13 May 1921)). The surviving Report looks at the progress of the D.G.R. & E.’s work across Central Europe including Germany. It also includes an appendix looking at German organisations in 1921 dealing with the records of WW1 Allied P.O.W.s .

In the C.W.G.C. file WG 436/1 mentioned above there is a large amount of surviving correspondence regarding war graves in Germany from 1919 onwards, including letters/information from Dame Adelaide Livingstone and D.G.R. & E. Central Europe, .

Missing P.O.W.s (Prisoners of War). Some background Sources to Dame Adelaide Livingstone’s Mission

Extracts From National Archives (TNA) file FO 383/499 Germany: Prisoners, including: Search for prisoners of war missing or sick in Germany: Draft Appendices for the Report of the Independent Committee on Prisoners, sent from Grindle at C2 Casualties to Warner, Secretary to the Committee: 26 December 1918

‘(1) In accordance with the desire of the Interdepartmental Committee [Editor’s note: on Prisoners] we submit a memorandum on the steps that have been taken during the war in order to secure all information possible about the fate of the Missing. The cessation of hostilities and the return of prisoners of war has materially altered the procedure and we have also outlined the steps which are now being taken.

(2) It should be added that the term ‘Missing’ is used here of soldiers who have been so reported by the Military Authorities in the Field and who have not been accepted officially as Prisoners of War. Accounting for prisoners, accepted as such, who fail to return is another matter and this cannot be taken in hand until the release is complete.

(3) We also append some notes, drawn up in the War Office, on the subjects of the presumption of death and of secret camps, which are connected with the main question under review.



(4) A soldier is not reported Missing, until all enquiries possible have been made in the unit and elsewhere. Owing to their military duties it is impossible for Commanding Officers to render detailed accounts of casualties, and the only report usually received is that the soldier is Missing; but the report of Missing is only made after enquiry, and any fresh evidence received later would be investigated and a further report rendered.

(5) The first lists of Prisoners of War received from Germany in the Autumn of 1914 were found to be extremely imperfect. Individual enquiries about Missing Officers and Men were then sent to Germany with the full regimental description and date of Missing. The replies, however, proved to be quite useless. This was recognised early in 1915, and the system changed. In lieu of this, Regimental Lists of Missing up to date were subsequently sent to Germany and the enemy countries for circulation in all camps and hospitals where prisoners of war were interned, with forms on which evidence as to the fate of Missing men could be entered. Fresh lists have been sent at monthly intervals, and an appreciable amount of information has thus been obtained. In cases where there was reason to believe that individual prisoners could give evidence about the fate of a Missing man, special enquiries have been sent to them in Germany.

With the return of the first prisoners of war in 1915, a systematic examination of them was begun. This was at first done by an officer detailed for the purpose, but it was soon found that a larger organization was required and the Government Committee was formed for the purpose of enquiring into conditions of captivity: the restriction of correspondence and the possibility of the existence of secret or unreported camps being one of the points always raised.

(6) Early in the war this was supplemented by systematic interrogation of Wounded men, which was undertaken by arrangement by the Joint Committee of the British Red Cross Society and the Order of St.John. It will often happen that a Wounded man can give evidence as to the fate of a comrade, but will have left the front before it can be taken. The Society are supplied with the War Office Official Lists of Missing and they also have Lists based on enquiries addressed to them. Their enquirers are given facilities for questioning soldiers about the fate of their missing comrades in camps and hospitals both in this country and overseas, and these enquiries are conducted not only in France, but in Egypt, Salonica, Mesopotamia, Genoa, Malta and Bombay and in 1915, at Lemnos. Much evidence has been collected and has been examined in the War Office, which alone has full facilities for identifying soldiers. If the evidence is considered sufficient after careful check and scrutiny in the War Office, the death of the soldier is accepted officially.

(7) In addition the battlefield is systematically searched afterwards when possible by the Staff of the Director General of Graves Registration and Enquiries. Much information has been collected in this way, and it has often happened that a body has been completely covered by earth with a shell or blown to pieces by a shell.


(8) On the conclusion of hostilities in the East telegraphic instructions were sent to the various Forces operating there to examine prisoners of war for any evidence they are able to give on the fate of the Missing. Lists of the prisoners known to be in Turkey were also sent out in order that any information available as to the death of soldiers included in them might be secured. Lists of untraced Kut prisoners were also sent with the request that prisoners from Kut should be examined upon it. In all these examinations the B.R.C.S. are co-operating with the military authorities.

(9) Prisoners from Germany are of course more numerous and are also returned to this country as soon as possible without the delay involved in the East waiting for transport. It has not been possible therefore to carry out the same procedure.

All prisoners are however invited at the Reception Camps to make any statements they can and to forward to the War Office notes or memoranda as to the fate of their comrades which may be in their possession. The Government Committee have also representatives at the Camps taking down all important evidence on this subject, and this is forwarded to the War Office. The B.R.C.S. also carry out such enquiries as time permits and have secured a substantial number of reports already.

(10) When the prisoners rejoin after furlough it is proposed to continue the examination in greater detail, and the B.R.C.S. have again undertaken to co-operate with the military authorities.

(11) Those prisoners who are admitted into hospital come within the scope of the ordinary enquiries made in hospitals by the B.R.C.S.

(12) As stated above the Director General of Graves Registration and Enquiries has examined the scenes of fighting and his operations have cleared up a number of missing cases. During retreat however it is not possible for his Units to do very much; the whole scene of the fighting in France is now however open to these Units, and a systematic search is being undertaken. Isolated graves will be examined, and both directly and indirectly it may be anticipated that much new information will come to light.

The Graves Registration Units are also working in Gallipoli, Palestine, Salonica and Mesopotamia.

(13) There is at the present time much talk of secret camps, men with lost memories and general anticipation that the cessation of hostilities will mean the appearance of the Missing. These hopes are the natural tendency of bereaved relatives, but it is to be feared that they have no foundation in fact. So far none of the returned prisoners have been unidentifiable owing to loss of memory. Suggestions of this character have often been made to the War Office in the past. They have always been carefully investigated, but no tangible result has been found. We append some notes on secret camps and also on presumption of death, which is the ultimate fate of a missing man.

(14) It is difficult to see what more can be done; the fate of the missing can only be solved – with varying degrees of certainty by evidence obtained from the soldiers comrades or found on the site. It is submitted that the steps outlined above cover the ground as far as is reasonably possible. How far pressure should be brought to bear on the German Government is a matter for decision by higher authorities than ourselves, but judging by past experience and the present possibility it is not though that much light would be thrown on the fate of the Missing. It is however probable that some evidence would come to light if enquiries were instituted among the released population of Belgium.

Appendix C has been added by Dame Adelaide Livingstone giving her experiences in Belgium. We suggest for the consideration of the Committee that this might form the basis of very useful enquiries and it is for the consideration of the Committee whether stages should not be taken to prosecute these enquiries.

Signed B. Grindle [Editor’s note: Head of C2 Casualties)

Lucan [Editor’s note: Head of the British Red Cross Wounded and Missing Department]

Adelaide Livingstone


Appendix A.        Presumption of Death.

It became necessary to consider the presumption of death of missing men on the ground of lapse of time alone when no evidence was available and the first cases were decided in the Autumn of 1915. The minimum period for France and Belgium was fixed at six months for officers and seven months for other ranks, which was increased to twelve months for the Eastern Fronts; careful investigation and experience having shown that practically all living men were heard of earlier than this. Copies of the list of the Missing were sent to the Record Office, in this country and to the Base and the unit overseas, and the next-of-kin of each man was asked whether any information had been received to indicate that he had survived. The replies from the various sources were collected together, with any additional information that might be received from the British Red Cross Society or elsewhere and each case separately considered. The procedure has remained substantially the same, with modifications from time to time, and about 80,000 cases of officers and men have been dealt with. Action has always been deferred if the next-of-kin wished it, or if it was thought that the circumstances of the casualty were not sufficiently clear. Great care has been taken, not merely from the point of view of the War Office and the relatives, but from that of the Insurance Companies. Representatives of these have had the procedure explained to them, and there has been little difficulty in the settlement of claims. Most companies have been willing to suspend payment of premiums after seven months pending a definite decision.

After the battle of LOOS in 1915, the Germans claimed to have taken a larger number of British prisoners than could be accounted for, and an explanation was asked for. A reply was eventually received that British and French were meant, but in the meantime cases of men missing at LOOS were held up. Action was similarly deferred in the cases of men missing in the Autumn of 1916 when it was known that some were being employed on the construction of the Hindenburg Line and it was thought that they might not be able to communicate with their friends. It has since been found, however, that this caution was unnecessary.

At the present time, in view of the repatriation of prisoners, presumption of death is being deferred except in a few cases where an ample period has elapsed and relatives are pressing for a decision…

Appendix 3.         Secret Camps.

It has always been known that a few men managed to remain in hiding during the retreat from MONS in 1914. A very small number have survived to the cessation of hostilities and a larger number have been captured by the Germans, some having been shot. Now that the Allied armies have reached the Rhine, there is no reason to suppose that any more will appear, and with these exceptions the results of the return of more than half of the known prisoners of war is to confirm the conclusion already arrived at that any surviving prisoners would have been heard of before the periods stated in Appendix A.

There is, however, among the public a wide-spread idea that missing men for much longer periods may still be alive, and that “secret” or “silent” camps exist where prisoners have not been allowed to write.

This is believed by the War Office to be absolutely untrue. Every supposed case of a “secret” camp which has been brought to the notice of the War Office has been investigated as far as possible, and no corroboration has ever been obtained; every case ending in hearsay from an untraced informant or in a definite mistake.

The idea frequently originates in a cherished, unreasoning belief that the soldier is still alive and must be accounted for somehow; but there are also three clear reasoned lines:

(1) Some men have been seen to be captured and have not been heard of again. It is definitely known that some have been killed by the Germans, and some have been struck by our own shells.

(2) Confusion of identity. The War Office are the only authority fully capable of identifying soldiers. This is recognised by the British Red Cross Society, who refer doubtful cases for verification. Foreign organizations, however, are much less careful, and have made many mistakes of identity.

(3) Supposed identifications from photographs. This is an exceedingly fruitful cause of error. A large number of cases have been referred to this Department, but in none has the identification been proved correct unless the man has been previously known to be a prisoner. Some cases can be definitely dismissed, the identity of the figure being known; in others there is only circumstantial evidence or none.

Twice a figure has been identified as five different men; in one case the real man was known, but in the other he was not. Men missing in France have been identified in photographs taken in Asia Minor. Men have been identified in photographs of prisoners taken before the date when they were missing.

Appendix C.                Occupied Districts of Belgium and France.

Statement by Dame Adelaide Livingstone, Hon.Sec, of the Government Com. On the Treatment by the Enemy of British Prisoners of War.

During the winter and spring of 1915, I went on behalf of the International Women’s Relief Committee, to the occupied districts of Belgium and France in order to bring back English girls and Belgian children to this country.

In the course of my work I travelled extensively in Belgium and met and spoke to many Belgian, French and English people who were employed in assisting English officers and men to escape.

These officers and men had in many cases become wounded on the battlefields of Belgium and France during the early days of the war. They had succeeded in crawling away unseen by the Germans and had been in hiding in the houses of Belgian and French peasants and other residents. These people were assisted from place to place and ultimately through the help of Nurse Cavell and others succeeded in escaping to England.

I saw myself while in Belgium in April 1915, a party of some 200 men who were at that time escaping. I further visited the houses of several Belgian subjects, where officers or men had been concealed.

In the convents of the neighbourhood were also, in some cases, cellars where our men had been hidden.

A certain number of records were kept and I was informed by the Mayor of Mons that after the war he and other prominent citizens of Mons would be prepared to hand over records, letters and discs of men who had died whilst they were being nursed and concealed by the Belgians. One of the people who gave me this information was arrested with Nurse Cavell, and sentenced to 15 years solitary confinement in Germany. This man’s evidence should now be available.

In May 1915 notices were placarded all over the towns of Belgium and France stating that any inhabitant found hiding an English officer or soldier would be liable to be shot.

It is possible that many officers who were in hiding at that date gave themselves up when these posters appeared and it is probable that these officers were shot by the Germans as spies and that no record of their death has ever reached this country.

It is also known that when Nurse Cavell was arrested some officers were caught hiding in her house, and in the houses of those who were in league with her. It is probable that they were shot, and it is improbable that their names were sent through to England.

In several cases privates have turned up as prisoners in Germany a year or more after they were declared missing. These men had been in concealment in Belgium or France, and had, after many months given themselves up to the Germans. They were placed in military confinement by the Germans for a time, and afterwards drafted in ordinary camps. No officers have so turned up, and it is probable that they were shot when they gave themselves up, or when they were caught.

In the course of my duties as Honorary Secretary of the Government Committee on the Treatment by the Enemy of British Prisoners of War, I have had certain statements made to me, most of which on investigation proved to be unfounded, but a few of which should certainly be pursued now that facilities for investigating them further are at hand. I should suggest that when all the prisoners have returned to this country, and when all the sources of information in England have been exhausted, steps should be taken to get into touch with the many people in Belgium and France who sheltered our men at the beginning of the war.

It should then be possible to obtain the definite evidence of the death of many men now posted merely as missing. Though it is to be feared that no missing prisoners will prove to be still alive. Further the German Government should be asked to produce records of all officers and men who were found in concealment and shot.

There are in this country, and imprisoned in Germany as well as Belgium and France many individuals, some of whose names are known to me, who can give us information and statistics about the men who were hiding in Belgium in the early part of the war.

At one time I was sent to France by the Government to attend a Meeting of the Union des Familles des Desparus. After investigating their records it did not appear to me that that would be any advantage in connection with them.’

(Ibid: Draft Appendices for the Report of the Independent Committee on Prisoners, sent from Grindle at C2 Casualties to Warner, Secretary to the Committee: 26 December 1918)

“Missing” P.O.W.s [Prisoners of War] or rumoured to be P.O.W.s, as defined by Lieutenant General J.Adye in a January 1919 memorandum (National Archives (TNA) file FO 383/499: 228) on the possibility of a search for missing P.O.W.s in Germany:

‘8.           Missing” men are of two kinds:-

(a) Those missing after an action and never heard of again.

(b) Those who have once been reported by the German authorities as prisoners in their hands, but who are not forthcoming now.’

There was always the hope amongst relatives that missing men were P.O.W.s of who no information had reached the U.K. through the International Red Cross Committee (I.C.R.C.), but in most cases this was a false hope not based any evidence, it was also one that the British Government quickly wished to refute after the Armistice:

‘The idea which is continually being brought forward that Germany is hiding away allied prisoners-of-war, must be refuted in as strong a manner as possible. The requisite service is taking the greatest pains to obtain information in regard to missing prisoners-of-war about whom the War Ministry has received several enquiries. The general type of complaint as to the supposed concealment is not enough.’ (National Archives (TNA) file FO 383/499 Germany: Prisoners, including: Search for prisoners of war missing or sick in Germany: p. 231)

From Extract from General Haking’s Report D. 62 Re Refutation of statement that Prisoners of War have been concealed in Germany.

B could easily be applied to prisoners of held by other enemy powers e.g. Turkey etc. in other theatres of war.

‘…       Exclusive of recent correspondence the materials formerly accumulated and which have been placed in the hands of this Committee for the purpose of its enquiry consist of considerably more than a hundred files of documents. These are composed, for the most part, of a somewhat heterogenous mass of notes and correspondence – chiefly letters from ladies – often difficult to decipher and frequently undated, or insufficiently dated, so that chronological sequence of the papers is often impossible to follow. In these circumstances, it will readily be understood that the task of attempting to disentangle the threads of possible clues, amid the maze of speculation and conjecture which constitute the bulk of this correspondence, is not an easy one, and little responsibility can be accepted for possible error or misappreciation by the Committee. These materials have come into the possession of the Government Committee more or less fortuitously, because the search for missing men has, at no time, formed part of the recognised duties of the Government Committee on Treatment by the Enemy of British Prisoners of War. That duty devolved upon the War Office, the British Red Cross and the Central Prisoners of War Committee in, in Thurloe Place…the reasons why such materials are found in the hands of the…Committee at all is that, at a certain stage, the Honorary Secretary was requested by the late Sir Starr Jameson, at that time the head of the Prisoners Department of the British Red Cross, to take over the correspondence then being carried on by him, since he said that he had found it impossible to reach any conclusion…but hoped and believed that, at the end of the war, it might lead to some result…

Under the conditions above described, it is rather…[a]…matter for surprise that so much of this material, thus accumulated haphazard in the course of the last four years, should be valuable and clear, than that a certain amount of it should be difficult to utilise. Indeed the gratitude of all concerned is due to the devoted workers who, stimulated by a common sorrow in the loss of missing relatives, collected all this material wholly gratuitously and without any official assistance….Such thanks are especially due to Mrs. Frank Elliott, Mrs Fowler, Mrs. Eales White and many others. Mrs. Elliott, in particular, has made most useful and able typewritten summaries of the evidence in the more complicated cases, and appears to have carried on the bulk of the correspondence, at first with relations of the missing, with whom she had got into communications, and later with the Hon. Secretary [Editor’s note: Government Committee on Treatment by the Enemy of British Prisoners of War], to whom she ultimately handed over all the materials in her possession.

One of the principal justifications for…these further searches for missing men – even after this long interval of time – now that hostilities have ceased and steps, formerly impossible, can be taken, is the belief which prevailed so widely during the war that there were “Secret Camps” in Germany where prisoners were not allowed to communicate with the outside world. This belief was very strongly held by the relations of many missing men who, being unable to obtain any definite or authentic news of their fate – not unnaturally clutched at straws and clung to any hope, however faint, of their ultimate reappearance. Evidence of this wide-spread conviction as to the existence of secret camps is to be found in a very large number of the files we have examined….

…to the stories about “H.M.S. Hampshire” [the ship carrying Lord Kitchener that was torpedoed in 1916] – “you would be surprised if you knew who was here”; to the statement said to have been made by Prince Louis of Battenberg that the King of Spain “knew there were fortresses where British officers were kept in secret” (see Mrs. Elliott’s letter to Dame Adelaide Livingstone of May 25th. 1917) etc., etc., etc.

Naturally this widely prevalent hope, or belief, was strengthened every time some missing man reappeared, who had not been heard of for several years. The circumstances of his capture by the enemy, were not known to the public, who only learnt of his return after a prolonged interval, and not unnaturally jumped to the conclusion that he had been prevented by the enemy from corresponding with his family throughout that period. Such cases, therefore, as those of Corporal Cheeseman, missing in August, 1914 and first heard from in May 1917; of Trooper Scriven, missing in August, 1914 and first heard of in March, 1917; of Private Ghost missing September, 1914 and first heard of in June, 1916; and many others, greatly encouraged the belief in secret camps – whereas the true explanation appears to be that these men had been in hiding for long periods before they were captured, or gave themselves up to, the Germans. None the less we find in these files as a consequence of such belief, numerous letters from bereaved relations who give expression to their unshakable conviction that the end of the war “will bring many surprises” and that numbers of those long mourned as dead will reappear in England….The origin of the belief was found to be due either to the complete disappearance of men seen to be captured, and who were doubtless either killed by the Germans or by our own artillery; to cases of confusion of identity; or to mistaken identifications from photographs.

…we have found much which confirms the opinion of the Committee…that these stories usually turn out on examination to be “based on hearsay from an untraced informant, or on a definite mistake”. At the same time, apart from the circumstances above described, which appeared to lend so much support to the belief [Editor’s note: that many of the missing were kept in secret prison camps], one cannot be surprised that it was so strongly and widely held in the early years of the war. Such cases, indeed, as that of Lieut. Bullen – as to whom the evidence of identity is unusually strong – who was seen to be marched off into the German lines, together with 15 of his men, none of whom have ever reappeared or been accounted for by the Germans…if the ‘secret camps’ theory be rejected…be susceptible of scarcely any other explanation that of wholesale assassination of prisoners by the enemy – an hypothesis which people were naturally slow to accept…But as the war proceeded, and so many other nameless horrors became common….such matters as the murder of a batch of prisoners, here and there, ceased to present the slightest element of improbability….

…After a careful consideration, however, of the above mentioned cases, we only find some 30 which can be said to contain a certain amount of evidence worthy of serious consideration; and of these 30 we understand that in 5 cases, the relations have now accepted the evidence of death as conclusive and do not desire further enquiry, (these are the Fergus Forbes, Murray, Forster, Almond and Molyneux Seal cases;) while the Stevenson and Young cases, although not definitely abandoned by the relations, appear to us so hopeless that they may be disregarded).

The 23 odd cases which remain, therefore, are the only one which appear to call for discussion; and in only in a small proportion of these can there still, we apprehend, be any hope that further evidence of importance will be obtained.

These 23 cases may be divided into three categories, viz:-

  1. Men reported missing; as to whose fate there is no evidence, since the field of battle;
  2. Men said to have subsequently seen in Belgium or Northern France; and
  3. Men said to have been seen in Germany….

(Signed) Malcolm McIlwraith.


February 20th. 1919.


  1. Men reported missing as to whose fate there is no evidence since the battlefield.


File 16           Bullen, W.F., 2nd Lieut., 10 (Sc) Batt. Kings Liverpool Regt.

16th of June 1915, reported missing at Hooge.

British attacked at 4.15 a.m., took four lines of trenches, then forced to retire at 12 noon.

At 4.30 p.m. Sergeant Clarkson of same unit saw Bullen and fifteen bomb-throwers between British and Germans. If the British had fired, Lt. Bullen and party would have been wiped out. Clarkson further stated he saw Bullen stand up and heard him call out “I am Lt. Bullen.” Clarkson ordered his men act to fire, then saw German surround Bullen and party, saw them stand up with their hands up and then proceed, under escort, into German lines.

Another Liverpool Scottish man confirms Clarkson, stating “At Hooge Lt. Bullen was cut off, he shouted to us “I am Lt. Bullen. I am a prisoner” – No further trace.


File 11.                        Brown. G. Hargreaves, Capt., 1st Batt. Coldstream Guards.

27th October, 1914. Missing near Gheluvelt.

  1. Sergeant Parkin of Machine Gun Section stated that Capt. Brown was carried back wounded.
  2. Sergeant Butt of same unit stated that he was positive that sometime in the morning (at what time has not been discovered) he saw Capt. Brown walking back towards Gheluvelt at a point one mile from the trenches where fighting was going on. The attack by enemy was at 5.40 a.m. Butt is a reliable man and was in a reserve trench close to road.
  3. Private Brown of same unit stated that the last he saw of Capt. Brown was that he was wounded, trying to rally a few men, absolutely…[surr]ounded ; the Germans then 20 yards from Capt. Brown’s party.
  4. Report from American Consul General in Berlin that Capt. Brown was at Daenholm proved to be incorrect.

[e.]                   In response to enquiry as to missing Coldstream officers from our War Office to Germany, reply reached War Office on 9th June, 1915 containing information from Commandant at Zerbst that “Capt. Brown wounded slightly near Ypres – location not known.” Enquiries at Zerbst showed Capt. Brown was never there.

[f.]                   Letters written by Miss K. (friend of family then in Switzerland) to all N.C.O.’s and men of Capt. Brown’s company then prisoners of war in Germany.

Private Leighton heard Capt. Brown had been blown up by a shell.

Private Labross told Private Baxter he saw Capt. Brown killed by a shell.

Private Simms reported he had talked to survivors and general impression was that Capt. Brown was killed…

  1. Podmore, S., Private, Gordon Highlanders.

September, 1915. Reported killed in action.

  1. Certain of his belongings including pocket book and letters in his possession were returned to his wife.
  2. Wife was informed officially of casualty.
  3. About 12 months later, wife received letter from Private Tully, K.R.R. stating he had been a prisoner of war and knew Podmore – that Podmore was still alive and well.

No “Private Tully” could be discovered.

  1. Shanwood, H.H., Sergeant, 18th K.R.R.

7th October, 1916. Reported missing at Guendicourt near Flers.

Shanwood was wounded by bullet in shoulder and started back to the dressing station four and a half miles away. Was seen on the way. No further trace…

  1. Wilson, Dennis Daly, Lt. Colonel, 17 Cavalry Indian Army, attached to 5th Sherwood Foresters.

1st July, 1916. Reported missing at Gommecourt.

  1. Systematic search of ground and Col. Wilson apparently neither killed nor lying wounded between German and British lines.
  2. Sergeant Major of same unit reportedly he saw Col. Wilson enter 2nd line of German trenches, then unhit.
  3. Of this battalion 17 officers and 233 men were missing, the wounded officers and men, who escaped, stated “the greater number of these are known to be prisoners – three of the 17 officers have been heard of in Germany, two died of wounds in a German hospital, two were killed – the remaining 10 officers not heard of.
  4. Bucknall, W.A.C., Lt (Temp. Capt) (2nd Battalion) attached 1st Batt, Northumberland Fusiliers.

3 May, 1917, Reported “missing”, supposed killed near Monchy le Preux.

Private H.F. Usher of the 9th Batt. Of same regiment reported that following 3rd May, 1917, in bed next to him at Douai Hospital was an officer of his regiment, whom he did not know, but of whom the German interpreter spoke to him (Usher) as Capt. Bucknall. The latter was very badly wounded and his speech indistinct. Private Usher identified Capt. Bucknall’s photograph out of several others. Early in June Usher moved to Cassel. When he left the war in Douai, Capt. Bucknall was still there, but he states that they were all put on train for Cassel or other destination, officers separated from men.

(Ibid: 269-297)

By March 1919 a mission to carry on the searches initially made after the Armistice for missing P.O.W.s and those who rumoured to have been P.O.W.s was actively being discussed:

Lord Newton [Editor’s note: He was an Assistant Under Secretary at the Foreign Office between March 1916 to August 1919 with special responsibility including negotiating release of British P.O.W.s[1]] agreed that there was no prospect of finding any men alive. The considerations were of a sentimental character. He though any Mission sent should be small, and perhaps H.M. Legation at Brussels could conduct the enquiries…

…[whilst]…Mr Grindle          [Editor’s note: A War Office official at this time in charge of C2 Casualties] thought that it would be better for the Mission to be under the Military Authorities…There were about 100,000 men with regard to whose fate no definite evidence had been received, but of these about 70,000 had been presumed dead in the absence of any news of them for a long period or as the result of their discs, pay-books, etc. being received. It had been decided to send 1,000 miscellaneous cases of “missing to Berlin as General Ewart thought he might be able to account for a certain number…

(Ibid: 311-314)

However it is clear that it had already been decided that Dame Adelaide would head the Mission, initially to Belgium due to her personal contacts and experience there, and we see this as the minutes of the meeting state that:

‘…Lord Newton said that Dame Adelaide Livingstone would see personal friends in Belgium…AT THIS POINT DAME ADELAIDE LIVINGSTONE AND SIR MALCOLM MCILWRAITH WERE INTRODUCED.

Although the mission was to be at first limited to:

‘…enquiries should be made in Belgium and Northern France with a view to accounting for missing men who may at one time or another have been detained behind the German lines or have been concealed by the inhabitants…’;

(Ibid: p. 317 (29 March 1919))

and Dame Adelaide herself was pessimistic that anyone would be found, with her role mainly being to show relatives that no stone had been left unturned:

“I feel it necessary to repeat here what I have already stated several times, that in my opinion the actual results of the enquiry will be practically negligible. The only real gain that will ensue will be that the relatives of the missing men will be convinced that every possible step was taken by the Government to discover the fate of those who are lost…’

(Ibid: Adelaide Livingstone writing in her capacity as Honorary Secretary of the Government Committee On The Treatment by the Enemy of British Prisoners of Wars, 11th April 1919. p. 318)

The Mission was supplied with lists by both the Germans and the War Office before they departed for France and Belgium as is clear from a letter dated 29th April 1919 sent bt Dame Adelaide in response to suggestions made in a letter to her by an interested member of the public:

‘Your suggestion that our War Office should be asked for the names of places used by the Germans for Casualty Clearing Stations and Base Hospitals and that from these places the Mission should obtain special clues as to the missing, would be hardly necessary for this reason, the War Office and the Red Cross together have already obtained complete lists from all Casualty Clearing Stations, from Base Hospitals and other hospitals in the occupied districts of France and Belgium. List have also been received from all the Mayors of the big towns in these occupied districts. Before the Mission leaves for Belgium they must thoroughly study all the information which is at present in the hands of the Casualty Department of the War Office, who have, as you know, taken over the Red Cross work and have all their records. The work of the Mission is to supplement this information by enquiry at such places as have not been covered by the official work; it is no good going over the ground twice and our aim is to obtain information which has not already been sent in…’

(Ibid: Adelaide writing to Mrs Helen Fowler, 29th April 1919, pp. 333-334)

Aside from Sir Malcolm McILwraith whose work in the British Red Cross Missing Department was mentioned above and who had at Dame Adelaide’s request sifted the evidence for undeclared missing P.O.W.s, Dame Adelaide proposed that the third member of her mission should be:

‘…Major C.O.D. Preston, R.F.A., at present working in Edinburgh,…[who]…is willing to go to Belgium on the Mission and if he could be spared to do so by the War Office, he would be an excellent person to appoint. He was at one time himself in hiding in the occupied districts in France and Belgium, and could give us more information that most people regarding the individuals who sheltered our men in the early days…[men left behind German lines in 1914 who managed to evade capture].’[Editor’s note, later in the same file it is revealed that Major Preston was replaced by a Brigadier-General, see 357 but it is interesting to note the comparison with using soldiers to find graves on the Western Front/Gallipoli who had been present at the relevant campaign and so knew the likely places of burial/landscape].

(National Archives (TNA) file FO 383/499 Germany: Prisoners, including: Search for prisoners of war missing or sick in Germany: Adelaide Livingstone writing in her capacity as Honorary Secretary of the Government Committee On The Treatment by the Enemy of British Prisoners of Wars, 6th May 1919. p. 338)

Further information on the Mission [taking the story into the 1920s] and German records of P.O.W.s/missing Commonwealth soldiers can be found under: Dame Adelaide Livingstone’s Mission, J.K. Lists and S.S.P. 4995.

[1] Marc Brodie, ‘Legh, Thomas Wodehouse, second Baron Newton (1857–1942)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/34479, accessed 10 Sept 2017]