This is a draft, not a definitive work, due to the scattered nature of the sources and the possibility that Graves Registration Units may have at times worked outside/or been reallocated between areas. Apart from further work with the documents at the C.W.G.C. Archive in Maidstone there is an opportunity for a crowdsourcing project to go through the documents in the online C.W.G.C. Casualty Archive and record the G.R.U.’s, Army/D.G.R.E. areas and Labour Corps units mentioned in connection with particular cemeteries. This could be combined with information gathered from the paper archive to produce much more information than we have at present on the work of the Graves Registration and Labour Corps (those involved with the cemeteries) units between 1915-1921.
GRAVE REGISTRATION UNITS AND AREAS MARCH 1915-JUNE 1919
Please note this information comes from many sources, including C.W.G.C. administrative records, Cemetery Documents and I.W.G.C. (Imperial War Graves Commission) Annual Reports. Much work still needs to be done as no complete record of the Graves Registration and Labour Corps Units who built and registered the Cemeteries has survived. Much of the surviving information relating to these units can be found scattered throughout the C.W.G.C. Casualty Archive.
- Locations linked to D.G.R. & E. (Directorate of Graves Registration & Enquiries) Graves Registration Units Feb 1916 to June 1917.
- Graves Registration Units formed after formation of D.G.R. & E. from the Graves Registration Commission (G.R.C.) in March 1915.
EXTRACT FROM STANDING ORDERS AND TECHNICAL INSTRUCTIONS JUNE 1917
- Division between Mobile and Stationary Commands in the D.G.R.E. in June 1917.
- Imperial War Graves Commission (I.W.G.C.) Areas from the 1920 First Annual Report of the Imperial War Graves Commission.
- Final D.G.R. & E. Districts March 1921.
- Grave Registration Units by June 1919.
C. Division between Mobile and Stationary Commands in the D.G.R.E. in June 1917
By June 1917 there was a division between Stationary and Mobile Units, the following come from instructions published that month (C.W.G.C. Archive Add 3/1/3, Box 2033, Standing Orders & Technical Instructions):
….L. of C. [Editor’s note: Lines of Communication, from the coast to near the beginning of the individual “Army” 1, 2 etc. Areas]
Working Parties, O.C. [See G.R.W.P.]
G.R.U. 3rd Army, O.C.
G.R.U. 4th Army, O.C.
G.R.U. 5th Army, O.C.
G.R.U. 2nd Army, O.C.
G.R.U. 1st Army, O.C.
* These Groups are liable to modification owing to the movements of Armies.’
G.R.W.P.: Graves Registration Working Parties – Working parties attached to D.G.R. & E. from the Labour Corps from 1917 to June 1919. The number of men in these units numbered about 1,500 men (on the Western Front) by April 1919 (C.W.G.C. Archive WG 1294/3/2 Box 1084 Exhumation: France and Belgium – Army Exhumation Staff: minute W.J.O.B. Daunt dated 5 April 1919); their job was to carry out building and exhumation work in cemeteries taken over from Corps and Divisions of the British Army in France and Belgium. From April 1919 Grave Registration Working Parties took over the role of burying the dead from units attached to the Armies, Corps and Divisions on the Western Front. They were originally separate from the Labour Corps units specifically raised between May to July 1919 to carry out the enormous job of exhumation and concentration of the WW1 graves and cemeteries in France and Belgium, who were projected in June 1919 to have an establishment of about 15,000 men (Ibid, this figure was not reached). Two examples of surviving references to work by G.R.W.P. units include:
- G.R.W.P. burials mentioned in the C.W.G.C. Casualty Archive, in this case 6683 Serjeant Roger Smith Manchester Regiment, where his grave and several other burials were marked by G.R.W.P. crosses before Concentration (see Concentration form): https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/242119/SMITH,%20ROGER
- A reference in a surviving C.W.G.C. Enquiry file to a burial report having come from a G.R.W.P. unit, with the burial report having the reference SSP 2381 GRWP (see C.W.G.C. Archive Enquiry file YP 5/2124 2nd Lt. S.R.E. Carter King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry: Full Report. Addressed to Mr Bolton (4 February 1920)).
The next table shows the areas and likely allocation of Graves Registration Units from around June 1919 onwards when the job of mass exhumation, concentration and re-registration of graves had begun in earnest. From October 1917 the system of Inspectors and Stationary/Mobile Units was replaced by a new more flexible structure with the Deputy Assistant Directors of Graves Registration and Enquiries (D.G.R. & E). based in each of the Army headquarters in a move to further integrate Graves Registration into the command structures of the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.).
Please note that the allocation of troops (including those working for the Graves Registration and other units) by areas occupied by Armies (the biggest groupings of units in the British Expeditionary Force) continued until the last British soldiers left France and Belgium 1921.In 1919 the areas where the Army was based in France and Belgium were re-designated as Army Areas and then by the summer of 1919 were known as Army Districts. Some former Army Areas/Districts such as No 2 and 4 were no longer in operation in France and Belgium after 1919, the 2nd Army became the British Army on the Rhine in Germany whilst 4th Army ceased to exist by early 1920.