What does the Army/District etc information at the top of the Graves Registration Report mean?

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What does the Army/District etc information at the top of the Graves Registration Report mean?

The C.W.G.C. history of a particular cemetery is extremely useful in understanding the origins and development of the cemetery in question. The information given is ultimately derived from sources such as the cemetery histories included in the interwar Imperial War Graves Commission cemetery registers, books such as Sidney Hurst’s (1929) The Silent Cities (Methuen & Co. Lt: London) and original documentary sources. For Picquigny British Cemetery the information provided by the C.W.G.C. history is very useful in establishing its organisational history:

‘During the first four years of the First World War, Picquigny was on the lines of communication for French and Commonwealth forces, and there are ten burials from these years in the communal cemetery, opposite the church.

At the end of March 1918, the 5th and 46th Casualty Clearing Stations were brought to Picquigny to deal with the casualties of the German advance on Amiens and the British Cemetery was opened a little west of the town. At the end of April, the 5th Clearing Station moved down the Somme to Crouy and the 46th went Northwards (http://www.cwgc.org/find-a-cemetery/cemetery/7100/PICQUIGNY%20BRITISH%20CEMETERY).’

Sometimes it is also useful to know the wider Army or I.W.G.C. area to which a cemetery belonged  at the time when the Graves Registration Report was completed (with the graves information certified as correct before investigation in London – the source of the handwritten notes/amendments often present on Graves Registration Reports and other Casualty Archive documents) in order to further understand its place in the military organisation and geography of British Army organisation in France and Belgium. This information is often (but not always) typed or stamped at the top of a Graves Registration Report Form in the C.W.G.C. Casualty Archive.

Picquigny British Cemetery

The Comprehensive Report in the Casualty Archive is a later copy of a report from 14.6.18, but it does reveal that the cemetery was in the Fourth Army area at that time, with a reference to Fourth A. [Army] S. [Serial] No. 1569. For the Graves Registration Report for Picquiigny British Cemetery see https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/72339/gaskin,-/

Deeper Understanding: From Armies to Areas to Districts – What does the Army/Area/District Information refer to on the top of the Graves Registration Report Form in the Casualty Archive?

By 1917 the Western Front had been divided into areas under the control of the five Armies of the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.) and the rear areas known as the Line of Communications. This division is reflected in the organisation of the Grave Registration Units (see Grave Registration Units) and also the areas mentioned at the top of the Graves Registration Reports (plus in the Concentration reports), for example see this example of a Comprehensive Report (G.R.R.) from May 1918 under 290685 William Murray (G.R.R. Finals) http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/86909/MURRAY,%20WILLIAM.

Following the Armistice in November 1918 and the crossing by part of the B.E.F. into Germany the headquarters of the Armies were reorganised into Areas in April 1919 as explained in a British Army report:

‘…with the division of the British Expeditionary Force into the Army of the Rhine, and the British Troops in France and Flanders [Belgium], the Headquarters Armies became Headquarters Areas, approximating to the terrain covered by the former Armies, and divided into Sub-Areas for administrative purposes, No. 4 Area was wholly in Belgium [Editor’s note: No. 4 Area also included Luxembourg], No. 3 Area and Lines of Communication Area wholly in France [Editor’s note: in effect ‘No 2 Area’], with No. 1 and 5 areas extending on both sides of the frontiers. The boundaries were made to coincided as far as possible with the boundaries of arrondissements [Editor’s note: communes are administrative divisions within arrondissements] in order to simplify liaison with the local authorities.’

Extract from National Archives (TNA) WO 158/849, War Office: Military Headquarters: Correspondence and Papers, First World War. France, Belgium and Germany. General Headquarters. Branches and Services: Organisation. November 1918  – January 1920 [Editor’s Note: the TNA listing is incorrect; a number of the reports cover up to March or June 1920]: Forward Areas: p. 2

With further reductions in the B.E.F. in France and Belgium by October 1919 the Areas were replaced by Districts, for example:

‘…No.5 Area Headquarters will cease to exist as such at 23.59 September 30th.

No. 5 District Headquarters opens temporarily at Place Tourcoing, LILLE, at the same hour and will remain there till the new Headquarters are ready for occupation at Convent St. Maur, LA MADELEINE, LILLE.

Correspondence which will not arrive before 23.59 September 30th will be addressed to No. 5 District Headquarters…’

Extract from National Archives (TNA) WO 95/531/6, Headquarters Branches and Services: Adjutant and Quarter-Master General : Headquarters, No.5 Area. “A” & “Q” SUMMARY No. 72. “Q” BRANCH: 240. INFORMATION. CLOSING OF AREA HEADQUARTERS. (25th September 1919)

These and earlier divisions can also be seen in correspondence in the C.W.G.C. Archive Enquiry files (E-files), for example the A.D.G.R.& E. Fifth District stamp on a letter asking about the location of the graves of some officers asked after by other officers in France and Belgium in 1919 (C.W.G.C. Archive Enquiry file PH 31/15143 Lieutenant C.L. Bowes-Lyon 3 Black Watch: A.D.G.R & E. stamp on undated letter, stamp dated 12/10/1919).

The following table taken from a report on the work of the B.E.F. in France and Belgium between November 1918 to June 1920 helps us to understand the chronological and territorial links between these areas/districts and many of the surviving G.R.R.F. ‘Comprehensive Reports’:

Statement showing the designations of sub areas and location of Area and sub area headquarters, and dates of closing down during the period July 1919 to June 1920, inclusive. [Editor’s note: does not include either Line of Communications North or South]
Area Sub Area Headquarters Date of closing down or amalgamation Closed

or

Amalgamated

No. 1 Valenciennes
   ,, Bethune Coupigny 24/8/19 Absorbed by Arras
   ,, Arras Duisnes 1/10/19      Closed
   ,, Douai Valenciennes 15/8/19          ,,
   ,, Valenciennes Mons 15/8/19          ,,
   ,, Mons Mons 7/9/19          ,,
   ,, Boignies Mons 7/9/19          ,,
No. 3 Flixecourt 1/4/20          ,,
   ,, Doullens Doullens 9/7/19          ,,
   ,, Amiens Flixecourt 15/9/19 Absorbed by Peronne.
   ,, Peronne La Chapellette 2/10/19 Closed
   ,, Avesnes Douriers 15/9/19 Absorbed in Cambrai.
No. 4. Namur 20/11/19 Closed
  ,, Brabant Wavre -/9/19        ,,
  ,, Hainaut Charleroi 7/10/19        ,,
  ,, Namur Namur 15/10/19        ,,
  ,, Liege Huy 30/9/19        ,,
  ,, Luxemburg Spa 14/8/19 Absorbed by Liege.
No. 5 Lille
  ,, Hazebrouck Cassel 25/9/19 Closed
  ,, Ypres Poperinghe 30/9/19        ,,
  ,, Lille Lille 25/9/19       ,,
  ,, Courtrai Menin 1/8/19 Absorbed Ath-Tournai.
  ,, Ath-Tournai Tournai 15/9/19 Closed
  ,, Hal Hal 20/7/19 Absorbed by Ath-Tournai’

Table transcribed from  National Archives (TNA) WO 158/849, War Office: Military Headquarters: Correspondence and Papers, First World War. France, Belgium and Germany. General Headquarters. Branches and Services: Organisation November – January 1920 [Editor’s Note: the TNA listing is incorrect; a number of the reports cover up to March or June 1920]: Forward Areas: Appendix

Further comments from the same report provides further clarification on how the reduction of areas/commands on what had been the Western Front is reflected in the references to ‘Armies’ and ‘Districts’ in many of the Comprehensive Reports:

‘At the close of the period under review, namely, 30th June 1920, of the 295 Headquarters in existence in forward areas at the time of the Armistice, numbers 1 and 5 District Headquarters [Editor’s note: Valenciennes and Lille] alone remained in the forward areas, apart from the Headquarters at St.Pol of the Directorate of Graves Registration and Enquiries (Ibid: Forward Areas, p. 6)’.

From 1920 references to  Districts were gradually replaced with references to D.G.R. & E. districts. This change matched the progressive withdrawal of all other units apart from salvage units (withdrawn by 1921) and those supporting the work on the cemeteries with references to districts run from D.G.R. & E. Headquarters at St. Pol (famous for being the site where the body of the so-called ‘Unknown Soldier’ in Westminster Abbey was chosen in November 1920), for example see the G.R.R. Working Copy under 228882 William Leo Gallery at Tyne Cot http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/462834/GALLERY,%20WILLIAM%20LEO .

Replacement of Directorate of Graves Registration & Enquiries Districts by Imperial War Graves Commission Areas

Following the final withdrawal of the British Army from the work of exhumation on the Western Front in September 1921 references to Army districts are replaced by I.W.G.C. districts, which were at first roughly based on their Army equivalents, see for example the G.R.R. under G/1538 Peter James King http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/458469/KING,%20PETER%20JAMES

With the closure of D.G.R.E. in London in March 1921 the following is a useful guide to how the D.G.R.E. organisation in France and Belgium was organised by this time. The table is transcribed from an I.W.G.C. file including information on the transfer of responsibility and records from the Army to the regional offices in France and Belgium of the Imperial War Graves Commission:

No 5 North & Central to I.W.G.C., Poperinghe
No 5 South                  to     “ Armentieres
No. 1 “A”                    to Bethune
No. 1 “B”                    to Arras
No. 3                           to Albert
Aisne & Marne           to Amiens
L of C, S and N           to St.Omer’

From C.W.G.C. Archive CWGC/1/1/1/38 Box 2033, Add 3/1/3 Taking over of D.G.R.E. by I.W.G.C. Transfer of duties between D.G.R. & E., France and I.W.G.C., France, joint memorandum (14 March 1921): p. 2

We can see evidence of the I.W.G.C. Areas mentioned as taking custody of D.G.R.E. paperwork in the list in later Comprehensive and Burial Reports compiled by the I.W.G.C.by looking both at the I.W.G.C. Annual Reports from 1921 onwards and Comprehensive Reports compiled at this time by the I.W.G.C.:

I.W.G.C. Areas

Key: H.Q. = Area Headquarters

Camp = I.W.G.C. base camp
Names of Area are in italics and taken
From the First Annual Report of the Imperial War Graves Commission[1]

Final D.G.R.E. Districts (based on handover table)
No. 1 Area. (The Belgian Battle Area): Ypres (H.Q.) Poperinghe (Camp) Belgian portion No 2 Area added to No 1 Area 1923/4[2] No. 5 North and Central – Included Ypres area and part of Northern France
No. 2 Area. (Armentieres): Armentieres (Camp) From 1923/4 combined with No 3 Area and H.Q. based Armentieres[3] No. 5 South – Armentieres area Northern France/part Belgium?
No. 3 Area. (Bethune and La Bassee Area): Valenciennes (H.Q.) Bethune (Camp) 1923/4 administration combined with No 2 Area[4] No 1 A – Bethune area Northern France
No. 4 Area. (Arras and part of the Somme): Le Cateau (H.Q.) Arras (Camp) No 1 B – Arras area Northern France
No. 5 Area. (Somme): Rosieres (H.Q.) Albert (Camp) No. 3 Peronne/Cambrai area Northern France
No. 6. Area (Line of Communication North of the Somme River): Boulogne (Camp) Line of Communication North
No. 7. Area (Line of Communication South of the Somme River): Rouen (Camp) Line of Communication South
No. 8. Area (Aisne and Marne): Amiens (Camp) Aisne & Marne

[1] The information in the table comes from C.W.G.C. Archive SDC 65 Establishments and Duties. 1920 – 1922, Area Headquarters (undated) and Imperial War Graves Commission (1920) First Annual Report of the Imperial War Graves Commission. H.M.S.O.: London: p. 6

[2] Imperial War Graves Commission (1925) Fifth Annual Report of the Imperial War Graves Commission. H.M.S.O.: London: p. 33

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

Examples of Cemeteries handed over to the Imperial War Graves Commission by 1920 within their new I.W.G.C. Areas

The following information shows some of the French and Belgium Commonwealth war cemeteries included by 1920 in new I.W.G.C. Areas. The information comes from Imperial War Graves Commission (1920) First Annual Report of the Imperial War Graves Commission. H.M.S.O.: London: p. 8:

Base Group – 11 Cemeteries [I.W.G.C. No. 6 & 7 Area Line of Communication North and South (1) ]

 

Number of Graves
Calais Southern Cemetery (1) 720
Les Baraques British Cemetery, Sangatte (1) 919
Wimereux Communal Cemetery 2,847
Terlincthun British Cemetery, Wimille 2,812
Boulogne Eastern Cemetery (1) 5,579
Etaples Military Cemetery 11,000
Eretat Churchyard Extension 546
St. Marie Cemetery, Le Havre 1,514
Mont Huon Cemetery, Le Treport 2,115
Boisguillaume Communal Cemetery, Rouen 320
Boisguillaume Communal Cemetery Extension, Rouen 36

 

 

Poperinghe Group – 7 Cemeteries [I.W.G.C. No. 1 Area Ypres] [Editor’s note: geographically close and easy to identify with the IWGC Area]

 

Number of Graves
Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, Poeringhe 9,887
Hop Store, Vlamertinghe 248
Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery 1,173
Poperinghe New Military Cemetery 677
Brandhoek Military Cemetery, Vlamertinghe 534
Ferme Oliver, Elverdinghe 425

 

Doullens and Amiens – 13 Cemeteries [I.W.G.C. No. 5 Rosieres Area and No. 8 Area Aisne and Marne]

 

Number of Graves
Corbie, Communal Cemetery Extension (2) 1,163
La Neuville British Cemetery, Corbie 914
Doullens Communal Cemetery Extension No. 1 (2) 1,337
Doullens Communal Cemetery Extension No. 2 (2) 375
St. Hilaire Communal Cemetery, Frevent (2) 516
Vignacourt British Cemetery 578
Pernois British Cemetery, Halloy-les-Pernois 401
Picquigny British Cemetery 126
Querrien British Cemetery 190
Beauval Communal Cemetery 235
Longpres-les-Corps Saints British Cemetery No. 2 77
Crouy British Cemetery 703