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Reported Missing in the Great War (Hardback)

100 Years of Searching for the Truth

WWI 1914 1915 1916 1917 1918 Military

By John Broom, Foreword by Paul Reed
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 304
Illustrations: 58 integrated black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526749512
Published: 4th November 2020

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Of the one million British and Empire military personnel who were killed in action, died of wounds, disease or injury or were missing presumed dead during the First World War, over half a million have no known grave. Of these, nearly 188,000 are buried anonymously in Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries, with a stone bearing the epitaph ‘Known Unto God’. The remains of a further 339,000 lie scattered across the wartime battlefields, having been buried in marked graves that were subsequently obliterated as front lines moved backwards and forwards, or destroyed forever in the carnage mechanised warfare wrought upon the human body.

For the families of those who were reported missing, months of agonising uncertainty could await, as searches were made to establish the precise fate of their loved ones. Sometimes rumours that an individual was recovering from wounds in a hospital, unable to contact his family, or had been taken prisoner by the enemy could circulate, causing a toxic admixture of hope, tinged with anxiety then dashed by the despair of the confirmation of death.

This book traces the history of the searching services that were established to assist families in eliciting definitive news of their missing loved ones. Then, using previously unpublished material, most of it lovingly preserved in family archives for over a century, the lives of eight soldiers, whose families had no known resting place to visit after the conclusion of the war, are recounted. These young men, their lives full of promise, vanished from the face of the earth. The circumstances of their deaths and the painstaking efforts undertaken, both by family members and public and voluntary organisations, to piece together what information could be found are described. The eventual acceptance of the reality of death and the need to properly commemorate the lives of those who would have no marked grave are examined. For three of the eight men, recent discoveries have meant that over a century since they were given up as missing, their remains have been identified and allowed families some degree of closure.

This book is a snapshot of the misery and pain that was suffered by those who not only lost loved ones in the Great War, but were denied a graveside to mourn at or even detailed knowledge of the circumstances that had taken their loved one from them.

The memorials to the missing in France and Belgium bear awful and awesome testimony to the scale of loss during the First World War and this book brings the focus down to eight specific families and, I suppose their search for closure; a useful reminder, if any reminder were still needed, of the sucking brutality of the First World War which plucked men from their peaceful Edwardian lives and obliterated them.

5 stars

Read the full review here

Paul Nixon

It’s a fascinating book about research and new technologies that are now able to help. A great book if you like a mystery, and you like to sift through piles of papers and information to put the puzzle together. I would wholeheartedly credit the author John Broom, who has put all this together and has produced a great book that is well written, informative and clear to read. The book also comes amply supplied with a number of photographs and pictures of the soldiers involved. A book that really is good and appeals to those who love collecting information about this fascinating subject.

5 stars

Read the full review here

UK Historian

Listed in the ‘IN THE KNOW’ feature

Dorset magazine, February 2021

This book looks at some of the men who lost their lives but of whom there were no remains, and at the impact this must have had on the families who awaited news of their loved ones. The amazing thing is that the organisations who continue to search for these lost lives are still turning up information. Brilliant.

Books Monthly

I enjoyed reading these compelling stories of eight missing soldiers from the First World War. Their backgrounds, families and the sad circumstances of their deaths with no known grave are each sympathetically told so that it feels like you knew them. As the majority of the world was affected by this global conflict, this book also highlights the worries and hardships that most of our families must have experienced at the time. As such, this tells us some of what our own grandparents, great grandparents etc. must have gone through too.

Also included is the heartening and fascinating account that three of the families finally received some closure after over 100 years of waiting, when the remains of their missing soldier relative were at last discovered and they could visit their grave for the first time!

Walker, Amazon Customer

This book is a snapshot of the misery and pain that was suffered by those who not only lost loved ones in the Great War, but were denied a graveside to mourn at or even detailed knowledge of the circumstances that had taken their loved one from them.

The memorials to the missing in France and Belgium bear awful and awesome testimony to the scale of loss during the First World War and this book brings the focus down to eight specific families and, I suppose their search for closure; a useful reminder, if any reminder were still needed, of the sucking brutality of the First World War which plucked men from their peaceful Edwardian lives and obliterated them.

Old Soldier Sahib, Amazon Customer

Interview with John Broom conducted by Justin Macartney

Belfast 89 FM

As a battlefield guide I have always thought that the term ‘missing’ was one of the cruellest (though unintentional) tricks played on the families of those soldiers who could not be found and identified. That telegram or letter that a loved one was missing opened the mind to the potential that the missing soldier was not dead and allowed hope to spring eternal. The author has compiled a narrative and examples that describe the context that therefore inevitably developed. The shame was that many soldiers who had seen how the soldier had died were unwilling or unable to say with the necessary clarity exactly how they died; often the details were too gruesome to bear repetition to those unfamiliar with death in the trenches. This book offers a good introduction to the subject.

Michael McCarthy. Battlefield Guide

Michael McCarthy
 John Broom

About John Broom

After graduating in History from the University of Sheffield in the early 1990s, JOHN BROOM pursued a career in teaching, firstly in his chosen subject and latterly with children with autism. A chance inheritance of family papers eleven years ago prompted his interest in the spiritual and ethical issues of the twentieth-century world wars.


John has been awarded a PhD on Christianity in the British Armed Services by the University of Durham, and is the author of six published books: Reported Missing in the Great War: 100 years of searching for the truth (Pen & Sword, 2020); Faithful in Adversity: The Royal Army Medical Corps in the Second World War (Pen & Sword, 2019); Opposition to the Second World War: Conscience, Resistance and Service in Britain, 1933–45 (Pen & Sword, 2018); A History of Cigarette and Trade Cards (Pen & Sword, 2018); Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the Second World War (Pen & Sword, 2016); Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the First World War (Pen & Sword, 2015).


About Paul Reed

Paul Reed is a leading military historian, specializing in the two world wars. He has been visiting European battlefields for more than thirty years, and lived on the Somme for over a decade. He has worked as a researcher and battlefield guide, and is the author of several books on the Great War. He also regularly contributes to television programmes, such as Timewatch, Meet the Ancestors and Who Do You Think You Are? and was historical consultant to BBC1’s My Family At War.

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