Missing: The Need for Closure after the Great War (ePub)
As seen in the press
As reviewed in the Daily Mail, March 2020: 'Agonising search for the lost fallen: A mother's quest for her son's body after his RAF plane was shot at during the Great War.'
As seen on Good Morning Britain, November 2019.
As featured in the Sunday Times, November 2019: 'Mother's five-year battle to find grave of First World War hero son.'
As featured in the Daily Express, November 2019: 'World War One mystery – the story behind the hero pilot with no resting place.'
In May 1918, Angela and Leopold Mond received a knock on the front door. It was the postman and he was delivering the letter every family in the United Kingdom dreaded: the notification of a loved one’s battlefield death, in their case the death in action of their eldest child, their son, Lieutenant Francis Mond.
The twenty-two year old Royal Flying Corps pilot, along with his Observer, Lieutenant Edgar Martyn, had been shot down over no man’s land, both being killed instantly. If there was one crumb of comfort, it was the news that a brave Australian officer, Lieutenant A.H. Hill, had gone out under fire and recovered both bodies: there would, at the very least, be a grave to visit after the war.
And then, nothing. No further news was forthcoming. Angela Mond wrote to the Imperial War Graves Commission asking for further details but there was confusion. No one knew where Mond's and Martyn’s bodies were buried. There had been an initial trail: both bodies had been taken to the village of Corbie and a lorry summoned to take them away, but from that last sighting both men had simply disappeared. ‘It seems incredible that all traces of the burial of two officers duly identified, should be lost,' wrote Angela to the authorities in December 1918.
And so began one of the most extraordinary private investigations undertaken in the aftermath of the Great War. Aged 48 and the mother of five children, Angela, a wealthy and well-connected socialite from London’s West End, embarked on an exhaustive personal quest to find her son, an investigation that took her to the battlefields and cemeteries of France and into correspondence with literally hundreds of French civilians and British and German servicemen. In the meantime, as she searched, she bought the ground on which her son’s plane had crashed and erected a private memorial to Francis, a memorial that still survives.
Angela’s quest for her son is reflective of the wider yearning amongst those who lost loved ones in the Great War: the absolute need find a form of solace through the resolution of a search. More than 750,000 servicemen and women had been killed, half of whom had no known grave. After the Great War there were families who hunted for their missing sons for a decade or more and when no body was recovered, back doors were forever left unlocked just in case that son should one day return. Lieutenant Francis Mond’s case was exceptional, perhaps unique in the circumstances of his death and subsequent disappearance, but the emotions behind the search for his body were shared by families all over the country.
The airmen’s tale is fascinating enough, but it is from that base that the author develops the unfolding history of how the army, War Office and ultimately the Imperial, later Commonwealth, War Graves Commission dealt with the huge numbers of dead; their identification; their recovery and burial; their documentation and their commemoration. That we can today find details of a soldier who lost his life within a few seconds of online research; visit immaculately kept and inspirational cemeteries; gasp and still mourn at the “intolerably nameless names” listed on the huge memorials to the missing is their lasting legacy. This is a story that must be known and “Missing” could scarcely be bettered for anyone wishing to know more. It is thoughtful, sincere and well presented and I highly recommend it.The Long, Long Trail
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The book can only touch on some aspects of this huge subject, but it is sensitively and clearly written and worth reading by the many whose relatives still have no known grave.WDYTYA? Magazine, February 2020 – reviewed by Phil Tomaseli
Everyone eventually dies but sudden early death is a severe shock for the bereaved, more invasive when the body has not been located or recovered. The author has a lengthy interest in The Great War and provides a unique appraisal of an often neglected consequence of the conflict. – Most Highly Recommended.Firetrench
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Van Emden’s research really brings the story to life through highlighting the impact the war had on those left behind. If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading Missing yet, make sure you order it now – you will not be disappointed.WW1 Geek
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Editor's ChoiceThe Great War magazine, March 2020
As someone whose grandfather died at the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and whose body was never found and buried, this moving story resonates with me to an extent I would never have believed possible. I grew up with only one grandparent, my mum's mum, and there were several members of my older generation of family who had served in the Great War who all came back. But the story of my grandfather is one that I can now never discover. I have a photo of him before he joined the army at the age of around thirty, and there is a mystery surrounding the subsequent life of his wife, my other grandmother. But Richard Van Emden, who is an expert on all things to do with the Great War, has taken one such story and transformed it into something quite special and moving. Extraordinary.Books Monthly
Listed in 'Books of 2019' featureHistory Revealed
A hugely engaging & fascinating book by Richard van Emden which gives us a moving & insightful look into the missing of WW1. Not just highly recommended, this is essential reading. The best Great War book of 2019 in my view.Paul Reed via Twitter
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Richard Van Emden is in a class of his own among WWI historians. He's a leading light of oral history and personally interviewed nearly 300 WWI veterans when he was a young man. His latest book, Missing, is more than just another blood and guts in the trenches story. It recounts in poignant detail the efforts of RAF pilot Francis Mond's family - especially his mother Angela - to find his last resting place after his death in action in May 1918. Along the way, Richard tells the story of the official Western Front cemeteries and memorials now visited by hundreds of thousands of people every year. A masterclass in history-telling from start to finish.Matt Nixson
Included in the 'Christmas Gift Guide' featureHistory of War, issue 75
As featured inDaily Express 9/11/19
As featured inDaily Express 11/11/19
As featured inThe Sunday Times 4/11/19
Angela Mond's son, a pilot, was shot down over France during the First World War, but where was his body? She spent years trying to find him, longing for closure and personal peace. Van Emden interviews her 91 year old granddaughter as he explores whether a sense of closure is possible in times of war.The Bookseller 12/7/19
The author delivers a very good account of the determined search by a mother for the location of her son’s grave; not a unique search given the very large number of ‘missing’ and the unidentified graves. Through the prism of her search and her accomplished detective work we are given an insight to the grief and frustrated loss of so many families. Of course few were able to achieve identification, and recent research into the competence of the exhumation of bodies on the battlefields has further questioned how many more men might have been identified. However this is a very good narrative that gives proper value to the subject.Michael McCarthy
Michael McCarthy. Battlefield Guide