NOSTALGIA: Ever wondered who cleared bodies from battlefields?
As we have but three months before we celebrate the armistice which led to the end of the First World War I will be including Portsmouth families over the coming weeks.Â
Mark Newman had two great grandfathers who did their bit. One, James Newman, volunteered to be part of a force that went on to the battlefields to recover thousands of bodies so they could be given a decent burial.
James Newman, PC11, of Â 70, Unicorn Street, Portsea, joined the police force in 1893. He was caught while drunk on duty in London Road, North End, Portsmouth, in November 1893. He was suspended and resigned after being in the force only fiveÂ months. Â
James volunteered for service at the outbreak of the war and served in the Royal Artillery Army Reserve, but because of his age wasn't sent onÂ active service. HeÂ returned to civilian service in April 1918 butÂ in December that yearÂ he joined the Royal Engineers and was sent to FranceÂ toÂ work with Graves Registration, now the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
He was part of a 15,000-strong force whose duties were to find, identify and bury the dead, sifting through badlyÂ decomposedÂ and mutilated corpses that had been gnawed by rats.
For this unenviableÂ work they were paid more than frontline soldiers '“Â Â two shillings and six pence on top of their service pay per day. After a year ofÂ this appalling work, on December 13, 1919, he fell into the Sambre canal in northern France in full kit and drowned. He was 57. He is buried in a military cemetery near Calais.
Mark's other great grandfather wasÂ Frederick Roe PCÂ 122 who joined the force in 1908 afterÂ service in the Royal Marines.Â In 1914 he re-joined the armed forcesÂ and served throughout the First World War returning to policingÂ in 1919.
He too was caught drunk on duty on December 31,Â 1922, and was given the option of being dockedÂ threeÂ days' pay or threeÂ days' leave. It'sÂ believed he was gassed inÂ the First World War which may have been why he wasÂ invalided out of the force in 1932. HeÂ died, aged 56, in 1939.Â Looking through other police records around these times, virtually every officer was disciplined for being drunk on duty.Â
Mark's father John Newman also served in the City Police Force from 1952 until 1981. It became part ofÂ Hampshire ConstabularyÂ in 1967.Â
'¢Â I wonder if youÂ read in the national pressÂ aboutÂ the Chinese metal dealers who are desecrating war graves? There are many British naval ships lying at the bottom of the sea off Singapore, Java andÂ Sumatra.
HMS Exeter, of Battle of the River Plate fame, which was sunk on March 1, 1942, Â with 40 members of her companyÂ going down with her, has been completely removed.
HMS Prince of Wales, lost with 327 men, has hadÂ more than half her remains taken.
HMS Repulse, lost with Prince of Wales, whichÂ went down with 508 of her company, has had her propellers and shafts removed.
This is only a small proportion of more than 500 shipsÂ Â on the seabed in the Far East which are being desecrated.
Someone must get this practice stopped now.
On a personal note, my father's brother William,Â a pall bearer at the funeral of King George V in 1936, was lost when the passenger liner Ceramic was torpedoed off the Azores in December 1942.
The ship was en routeÂ to St Helena, Durban and Sydney. William was to disembark at St Helena to train troops.
Ceramic was torpedoed with the loss of 655 crew, troops, 90 civilian men, 50 women and 12 children. All perished but one, a Sapper Munday from south London.Â
My father would be distraught if he knew Ceramic had been taken apart where she lay with the remains of many still within her.
Thankfully she is too deep down.