That is the new and excellent book by Richard Van Emden, and it covers how the British bureaucracy handled the reporting and identification of soldier corpses during and after the First World War. Here is the author’s summary:
Here is the story of the army’s hunt for legions of missing men. How were they sought? How many were found and identified and what were the implications for families when that search was wound down? tens of thousands of British people felt compelled to visit France and Belgium to see where their loved ones died; here we will explore what happened to the battlefields of Northern France and Belgium in the immediate post-war years…In telling the story of Britain’s military cemeteries on the western Front, this book will look at their design and horticulture, and examine the extraordinary lengths to which the gardeners of the Imperial War Graves Commission went to create an Eden for their dead comrades.
It turns out the British Army searched for remains for about three years, and after that the efforts pretty much dwindled to zero. I also enjoyed reading about how these efforts, and the building of on-the-site graveyards, intersected with French and Belgium law and property rights. And this:
An important question had been posed: to whom did the dead belong? Did families own them? Or did the bodies of servicemen and women remain in passive, eternal servitude to the army and, by extension, the government? They were, after all, in military service and under military law when they died. Did death release a body from continued service only to be automatically re-enlisted into the ritual of state-organised and state-controlled remembrance?
Among its other virtues, this book is also an interesting look at some of the efficiency properties of the earlier 20th bureaucracies. The fact that they didn’t have the ability to make things too complicated often was a great virtue.
Recommended, you can order the book here.