The Royal Air Force Missing Research and Enquiry Service (MRES) 1944 - 1952

The Royal Air Force Missing Research and Enquiry Service (MRES) was set up in 1944 to trace the 42,000 personnel who were listed as 'missing, believed killed'. The demand was so great that the department was expanded in 1945. These men had no special training, and did not have the benefits that modern technology offers; only a strong desire to bring home those who had not returned. Despite the obstacles caused by the lack of tools, the MRES was able to account for over two thirds of the missing personnel by a thorough combing of the globe.

 

During 1945 a total of eight Missing Research Sections were established across Western Europe. However, such was the scale of the task confronting the MRES that in July 1945 it was decided that this organisation should be greatly expanded. By April 1946 the eight Missing Research Sections had been replaced by four larger Missing Research and Enquiry Units (MREUs) covering Western and Central Europe. Subsequently, a fifth MREU was created in Italy to conduct investigations in Southern Europe and the Mediterranean. Missing research activities were also conducted in the Far East.

Although the MREUs were attached for administrative purposes to RAF formations in the country or region in which they were to operate, the MRES remained under the direction of the Director of Personal Services and its work was coordinated by P4(Cas).

Following the disbandment of the MRES on 30 September 1949 the casualty branch continued to be responsible for all aspects of research into those still listed as missing and a small number of 'Missing Research and Enquiry Liaison Staffs' (MRELS) posts remained after this date.

On 19 August 1946 control of the casualty branch was transferred from the Directorate of Personal Services to S7 and P4(Cas) was redesignated S7(Cas). Although this would appear to have marked a reversion to the pre-war pattern of casualty administration, the Director of Personal Services continued to maintain an 'interest in the work of the Casualty Branch and of the Missing Research and Enquiry Sections abroad' and responsibility for this oversight function was vested in the Deputy Director of Personal Services (2). In March 1947 S7(Cas) relocated from 73/77 Oxford Street to 2 Seville Street, Knightsbride, SW1, and in the following month the branch switched from S7 to Secretarial Division S14, being redesignated S14(Cas) with effect from 28 April 1947. As part of a programme to transfer Air Ministry branches from Central London to the 'periphery' the personnel of S14(Cas) moved from Seville Street to the government offices at Stanmore in April 1949. Secretarial Divisions S7 and S14 were combined under the title S7 with effect from 1 February 1956 and as part of this reorganisation the responsibility for casualty administration was transferred to the RAF Officers Appointments and Record Office (OAR), the casualty branch now becoming AR9(Cas).

 

Those found were identified and reinterred in Commonwealth War Graves Commission plots.Without the commitment shown by the dedicated teams of the MRES, many families would go on not knowing what had happened to their loved one or of the location of their Final resting place. The MRES allowed families the dignity to finally grieve. The unit was disbanded in 1952.


2 M.R.E.U Detachment Holland 1947

 

Januari :  After Christman holidays operation continued in Holland until approximately the middle of Febuary. One third of the total number of officers were engaged on full time exhumations, and the remaining two thirds on cases involving search work and interrogation of civilians.

 

During this period the military cemetery in Den Helder was cleared and as far as exhumations for indentification were concerned involving about 70 bodies and apart from a few isolated exhumations in other areas this was the last big cemetery to be cleared before the big "freeze up"practically brought operations to a standstill.

Even before snow actually began to fall exhumations were not possible because of the hard frozen ground.

 

Februari: from the period beginning of February until exhumations commenced again towards the end of March search work was continued as far as road and weather conditions permitted. All officers unable to operate were engaged in compiling cemetey lists, chechking files and preparing their plan of operations to make a speedy start when the weather improved.

 

March: towards the end of March the weather improved sufficiently to enable operations to be reassumed, An exhumation team visited Castricum cemetety: 44 bodies were exhumed and 80% were subsequently identified. This was the final large scale operation to take place after the big "freeze up"From then on apart from flooding in some areas work went aheady very rapidly and succesfully.

 

April:  During the month of April both exhumation teams concentrated their effors on the large military cemetery at Woensel- eindhoven were 40 cases were outstanding. Those cases involved about 170 -ersonnell and these exhumations were executed in approximately 3 weeks.

S/Ldr Philbin, the detachment Commander went on leave on 28th april and F/Lt Smith assumed command. A conference was held at HQ D.D.G.R.E Brussels and F/Lts Smith and Grovenor represented No.2 M.R.E.U Detachment. It was decided that all officers should stop search work and concentrate on exhumations with 80 G.C.U as soon as the Officer commanding 80 G.C.U could make sections available.

 

May:  The work of the unit was severely hampered by unserviceable M.T. Our Hook Workshop RASC, tried to rectify, but was little succesful. Den Helder cemetery was concentrated into Bergen op Zoom Military Cemetery and exhumations and contrations at Margraten and Woensel.
Disciple on the unit was good and after two airman had to returned to Unit Headquarters because of unsuitable behaviour the morale and conduct of the Airmen Mess reached a high level.

 

June: Operations continued rapidly in May until instructions were received from Unit Headquarters about the middle of the month  that The Hague Detachment was to close down. There was a number of outstanding cases and all personnel put in a terrific amount of work, and the Advance party was able to leave for Unit Headquarters at the end of the month.

 

July: Although the Hague Detachment has virtually ceased to exist the majority of the Officers have been attached to G.C.U, 2 officer F/Lts Springborn and Burnet are operating from Utrecht and Eindhoven respectively, F/Lts Grosvenor and Hewish attached to the R.A.F Delegation, Brussels, F/Lt Cook is attached to D.A.D.G.R.E Antwerp, and F/Lt Prudence to 84 G.C.U Louvain.