Why did so many men end up as “missing”?

Why are so many men who were killed during the Battle of Arnhem-Oosterbeek still missing? This is a question asked by many people throughout the years.

 Several reasons can be given and I will attempt to explain them here:



Identification Disc failure

The British Army start using ID discs in 1907 when it was decided that all soldiers should wear a single metal tag, with name, rank, number, regiment and religion stamped on it. On 21st August 1914 it was decided to move away from a metal tag to a single compressed vulcanized rubber one which was red in colour.


In the field regulations of October 1914 it stated that “Anyone concerned with burying a soldier, or finding a body after an action, will remove the identity disc and pay book”.


But the powers that be had not taken into account the destructive power of weapons in WWI and had thus allowed a flaw to remain in its guidance relating to the administration of casualties.


By removing the two key forms of identification from a body, the possibility of misidentification of the dead became more likely.


On 24th September 1916, a second disc was introduced and so a soldier now had to wear two compressed fiber discs, one red and one green. Both discs contained the same information but a change in the rules covering the handling of bodies said that the green octagonal disc should remain with the body.


Some soldiers didn’t rely on the fact that these compressed discs would survive some battle field conditions. Private Leigh from the 10th Parachute Battalion made some stainless steel ID tags for himself, as can be seen in one of the photographs.


However, due to several other factors, this didn’t seem to work in a number of cases during the Battle of Arnhem.


No.1 Some ID discs were taken from the body, and handed over to Officers who in some cases were killed themselves, and as such they got lost.


No.2 In one case they were handed over to a Dutch Doctor, who lost them during the evacuation.


No.3 From 23-09-1944, the Germans ordered the evacuation of Arnhem, and later also surrounding places like, Oosterbeek, Wolfheze, Renkum, Heelsum. It would be some 7 months later that the first people were able to return. In the meantime only a few soldiers had been able to buried and added to the casualty register.

This meant that some casualties that have been left unburied had lost their ID discs due to them disintegrating in the elements.


No.4  It is said that some German soldiers who received ID discs and other forms of identification threw them away, or even didn’t bother to hand them over to the Red Cross.

It is known that on the body of a death German soldier near Elst an ID disc was found of a British soldier who was killed.


No.5 It is also know that is some cases, for whatever the reason, some men had ID disc on them which belonged to other soldiers and were buried as such.

When later it turned out that the "dead"man had in fact survived, the grave was changed to that of an unknown soldier.

British ID disc example.

ID disc of a Polish Paratrooper (collection P. Reinders)

Stainless steel ID disc from Private Leigh.

(collection P. Reinders)














An example of US dog tags.

ID disc found on a body, recovered from the river Lek.

First Aid

Because the fighting took place over a relatively short period, but within a very areas (eg Arnhem bridge area-Oosterbeek0.

There were many places where wounded were tended to and subsequently died of their wounds.

Some were brought in without any forms of identification, others were stripped so they could be operated on and if they died, and nobody was around to identified them, they could not be named.


Also casualties could not always be buried, due to the heavy fighting and these bodies were often stacked up in or outside with out without any clothing or any form of ID.

When 1st Airborne Division evacuated the area, these bodies were left behind to be  buried by the Germans, or in most cases, the Red-cross volunteers or by members of the local population who were ordered by the Germans to do so.


 Army Pay book of Private J Martin who served at Arnhem with 1st Parachute Battalion, as was taken Prisoner.                       (Collection A.Taylor)





















Grave in Kate Ter horst garden used as First Aid post.

(Gelders Archief FA367-474)


Bodies went missing

Some of the missing men will, sadly, never be found or identified. This is due to the fact that the body was literally “blown to pieces” by enemy fire or, as in the case with one Glider Pilot, “friendly fire” when he accidentally walked in front of a 75mm Howitzer just as it was fired during the night near the old church at Oosterbeek. Also, one has to remember that there was much fighting and shelling later on in the war when the Arnhem/Oosterbeek area was finally liberated. Graves which may have been properly marked at the end of September may have been lost during the subsequent fighting in 1945.













The remains of a soldier of 250 Airborne Light Composite Company RASC, killed during an ambush on 19-09-1944 at station Oosterbeek-Hoog.

Cases of mistaken identity

In some cases, bodies were identified by army pay books, or other forms of ID found on them shortly after the battle,or in some cases after the war.

It is known that a body was found in a glider, and it was identified by the documents in the battledress. the relevant family was informed but they already heard from the soldier that he was POW.


It transpired that the POW had swapped places with the soldier who was subsequently killed and accidentally left his battledress on his original seat.

When the glider crashed, the soldier on his seat was killed, and when he was found it was assumed that the battledress belonged to him.


Another soldier was identified by the dog tags in his gasmask bag, but these turned out to belonged to another different soldier who was a POW.












A spoon belonging to a South Staffordshire soldier with Army No.4914725.


This was found at a First Aid Post, however the number could not be traced to a soldier of the unit at Arnhem.. It is know that this was the same with a knife found at a Royal position, in side the remains of a kitbag.

And in Lent near Nijmegen a buttonstick was found which belonged to the Irish Guards member whom never went overseas!.

 It later turned out that Driver W.H. Brook the air despatcher survived the war.

Note the grave of Gunner T Dacey of the Royal Artillery. Whilst in fact it is Private Thomas Dacey of the 1st Parachute Battalion.(photo IWM).

Newspaper clipping from 01-09-1946, of grave 16.C.13.

It turned out that Bombardier Brackenbridge survived the battle, he now rest an unknown soldier. The particulars were taken on ID disc found with the body.

Burning of gliders by the Germans

Already after the landings on the 18th, the Germans started to set fire to the gliders,  some of which contained the bodies of dead men, Also, some bodies were left close to the gliders and they burned as well.

As still from a German newsreel "Wochenschau".

A number of gliders, which are burned by the gliders, to prevent that they will be used again in case, the Allies would capture the area after the landings.


The burned remains of a glider, with a field grave. (C. Janse)

Burial parties

After the Battle, the Germans priority was, naturally, to have their casualties buried first, and only later did they bother with the allied death.

In some cases civilians and also prisoners were forced into burial parties. Also the Red Cross and Air Raid Wardens formed burial parties.

In a number of cases documents or other forms of identification found on the allied bodies were handed over to the Germans, but it is also known that civilians kept, documents or jewelry from the Germans and handed it over to Allied soldiers on their return in 1945.

Letter of the padre of 7th Duke of Wellington Regiment, to the parents of a Pilot Officer who was killed during the battle, and was buried by Air Raid Wardens in Renkum, whom kept personal belongings.

(collection P. Reinders)

It is also known that in May 1945 a farmer in Kesteren, was ordered by an American Officer, to burn the remains of soldiers which were found not to be buried, but also bodies that were already had been buried, were being digged up and burned.

He states that he burned at least 100 bodies before he was ordered to stop this, it is not known how many of the bodies were Allied soldiers.

British prisoners are digging a grave for a killed comrade, supervised by a German Red-Cross soldier.

Part of a list made up om 24/25/25-09-1944, made up by Mr  Kalt of Ede, one of the Air Raid Wardens who went around with the Red Cross on the Ginkel Heath and area to look for bodies, collected them, looked for forms of identifications, make notes and buried them in the Mass grave at the Amsterdamseweg. Numbers 25 and 30 are marked as unknowns.

(collection P. Reinders)


Bombing of the Arnhem Road Bridge


The graves of some of those who were killed and buried around Arnhem Bridge were lost when the US Airforce bombed the Bridge on 6th and 7th October, causing great damage and fire in the buildings and surrounding area.


The area after re-building has started in 1945.

The Arnhem Road Bridge area, during the Battle.

The Arnhem Road Bridge area, after the October bombing.

Aircrew members/Glider Pilots


Aircrew members who are still missing were probably buried  with the wreckage of their planes because the bodies were too badly damaged to be identified.


cases happened when they were killed when their plane crashed and were  beyond recognition or their bodies could not be salvaged from the plane and are still buried with wreckage.

The is alo the case with some Gliders Pilot that were shot down or crashed.


The wreckage of the Stirling LJ-883, which crashed on 23-09-1944, with a fieldgrave of a crew member.

(Collection G. Maassen)

A Glider Pilot lies among the wreckage of his crashed glider on landing zone L, at Papendal.

Allied Bombing Raids, POW camps

Its is known that men who were captured at Arnhem, have been killed by bombing raids on German POW camps.


There might by change that any of the missing, who are known to have been prisoner, might be the victim of these bombing raids and a such are missing since.























Medical bulletin about such bombing raid on Stalag 12a (Collection Philip Reinders)



It is known that civilians who returned home after the evacuation, took rifles or helmets from a field grave, not releasing that the grave might get lost.

It is also known that a Dutch photographer drove around the area with a white War Grave Cross and helmet and took photographs at several locations, which gave the false impression of a fieldgrave location.

Even in the years after the war, people didn't realize the importance of personal belongings or other forms of identification should stay with the remains when handed over to the Police or War Grave Unit.


For example in 1977, the remains of a soldier were found, but before the police arrived some children took away a button stick with an army number on it.

Example of a buttonstick found at Oosterbeek (Collection P. Reinders)

Another example, happened in March 2003, when remains and a pair of british army shoes were found, buried in a plastic shopping bag! at the Van Lennepweg in Oosterbeek, It seemed that someone with a detector found the remains and instead of contacting Police, possible took some souvenirs from the remains, and reburied the rest. When the Police had been informed,the war grave unit might have been able to do some more research on the remains and other possible found equipment.













A "staged" photograph, taken by the photographer who went around with the cross and the helmet.

Same marker, same helmet, same plane, but both placed on different spot.

Killed-Missing in action related documents

Fellow soldiers are asked for information about missing soldiers (collection P. Reinders)














Regret to have inform you Missing letter.

(collection P. Reinders)


A confirmed killed in action notification (collection P. Reinders)


A confirmed killed in action notification (collection P. Reinders)



A confirmed killed in action notification (collection P. Reinders)

When a soldier was wounded if all went correct a Field Medical Card had too be filled in, but presumable this not always happened as it was to hectic to have time for this.

(collection P. Reinders)

Field medical card with medical information of the patient. (collection P. Reinders)

Field medical had to be but in this cover when the patient was transferred (collection P. Reinders)

When a Airforce crew member was killed of missing, sometimes a note was marked in his log book, before it was send back to his relatives, this pilot went missing on 20-09-1944, and it was later confirmed that he was killed.

(collection P. Reinders)

When a Airforce crew member was killed of missing, sometimes a note was marked in his log book, before it was send back to his relatives, this pilot went missing on 20-09-1944, and it was later confirmed that he was killed.

(collection P. Reinders)

War Graves Unit-Documents

A War Grave unit, grave marker (collection ABM)

A Grave concentration report, note that 2 are named, but later have been changed to unknown. That of Gathro is even marked being killed in May 1944.

And the first misspelled name of Private Dobrozyski of 1st Parachute Bn.

War Grave Registration Report form for Hartenstein Hotel.

A Grave exhumation report, most likely made up for every soldier by the War Grave Unit. I most have been a very difficult and dirty job, checking the remains 15 months after the battle. But note already the small mistake made on the document about the grave location of the then unknown Major, later turned out to be Major Ritson of the 156 Battalion. He lies buried in grave 6.D.18 and not 6.D.19.

A document send to the family when a soldier was identified.

(collection P. Reinders)

A ducument send to the family when a soldier was identified.

(collection P. Reinders)