Unprecedented losses

The First World War or Great War was the first war of an industrial nature in history. The new weapons used by soldiers (machine guns, gas, flame thrower, and so on) and the development of artillery decimated the troops and killed several inhabitants in the regions near the frontline. It is estimated that 10 million people died as a result of this conflict, soldiers for the most part but also civilians.

The casualties suffered during the offensives were disproportionate compared with the casualties of previous conflicts. During the Battle of the Somme (1 July-18 November 1916), 125,000 British soldiers were killed or reported missing and an additional 30,000 other men were injured.

The industrial nature of the First World War also meant that the bodies of hundreds of thousands of soldiers were lost. Some were pulverized by shelling during fighting or abandoned in the no man’s land, the space between the two trench lines of the two armies. In some cases the provisional cemeteries that were built near the frontline were destroyed following a new attack, leaving no trace of the remains that were buried there. The British thought of a name for those soldiers whose bodies were never found: they are called the missing.

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  • Cover of "The Care of The Dead", 1916, brochure, coll. Linge © P&K Linge

    This brochure highlights the work, from 1915 onwards, of the Graves Registration Commission, the forerunner of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

  • London Scottish attending to their comrades graves, first quarter of the 20th century, postcard, coll. Linge © P&K Linge

    Often the comrades of the dead soldiers ended up burying their corpses. Their information was obviously essential to determine the exact location of the graves.

The Care of the DeadLondon Scottish attending to their comrades graves