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Legacy of Liberation: How CWGC’s work in Normandy still goes on 80 years after D-Day

While the Normandy Campaign is long over, Commonwealth War Graves is still dedicated to recovering and commemorating the battle’s fallen to this this day.

In 2023, the CWGC Commemorations Team handles a case of three British soldiers lost in the Normandy countryside, rediscovered and commemorated.

On the 80th anniversary of the deaths of Corporal Allan Edwin Griffiths, Lance Corporal Neville Charles Skilton, and Trooper David Louis Morris, Mel Donnelly, CWGC Head of Commemorations, breaks down the important work that went into finding them and how our work never ends.

Commemorating the War Dead of the Battle of Normandy

Recovering remains of the fallen historically

A British officer inspects an ID disc of a fallen soldier alongside a French civilian.

Image: A Graves Registration Unit officer and a French civilian examine an ID disc

Within days of the landings in Normandy, the staff of the Grave Registration Units had landed in France and started their work to find, bury and identify the dead.

Their procedures were informed by the lessons learned during the First World War, and the difficulties that had been experienced during earlier campaigns in the Middle East and Italy. 

This time, more teams were made available, they arrived in theatre earlier in the campaign and procedures for the care of the dead had been updated. Instructions were given to all those on the fighting front on the use of identity discs; wherever possible, units were responsible for the burial of their own dead. 

This improved the chances of a positive identification made by men who would recognise their comrade and helped maintain the morale as everyone understood that if the worst happened to them, their friends would take care of them.

Recovery and commemoration in the 21st century

A woman in a white lab coat and blue gloves examines WW1-era artefacts using a microscope

Image: Over eight decades of progress means our recovery and commemoration units are equipped with modern tools to greatly aid their important work

Today we have some advantages compared to those working immediately after the war: we have a final list of those buried in a CWGC named grave, and those commemorated on one of the Memorials to the Missing; crucially rather than relying on searching manually through thousands of paper indexes, we can now use our digital systems to pinpoint relevant information. 

But not all the evidence available to those working on these cases in the 1950s has survived; archive documentation provides us with only limited ‘snapshots’ and we must avoid drawing incorrect conclusions by not recognising there might be gaps in the evidence. 

We appreciate the efforts of members of the public who, perhaps visiting a CWGC cemetery or searching our website, see a grave with a regiment, rank or date of death which they research in the hope that it might be identifiable. However, such submissions are not the only route to an identification. 

The CWGC Commemorations team regularly raise an investigation as part of our daily work. 

Irrespective of how a case has been raised, we apply a consistent methodology to ensure that every element is thoroughly researched. 

The identification of a casualty is a formal process which requires an Adjudication by the military authorities in consultation with CWGC and must be based on evidence from contemporary sources. 

We do not overturn a historic decision without significant new evidence which provided a clear and convincing positive match between just one grave and a single casualty. 

Corporal Allan Edwin Griffiths Image: Corporal Allan Edwin Griffiths

On the 80th anniversary of their deaths on 11 June 1944, CWGC remembers Cpl Allan Edwin Griffiths, Lance Corporal Neville Charles Skilton and Trooper David Louis Morris.  

All three men were part of the 4th County of London Yeomanry (Sharpshooters), The Royal Armoured Corps; their unit were involved in two actions in the first phase of the campaign in Normandy - firstly on 11 June near Tilly-sur-Seulles when a number of tanks were ambushed and then two days later on 13 June further south at Villers-Bocage.

In total they suffered 70 casualties, of whom 12 remained unaccounted for by the time the Bayeux Memorial to the Missing was constructed. 

Amongst those named on the Bayeux Memorial are some who are buried in CWGC graves in Normandy, but at the time their graves could not be identified. 

In 2021, CWGC received a submission from a member of the public suggesting that two graves at Tilly-sur-Seulles War Cemetery marked as being those of an Unknown Corporal, and an Unknown Lance Corporal of the London Sharpshooters could be identified as that of Cpl Griffiths and L/Cpl Skilton. 

CWGC research revealed that during the intense fighting in the area, some of those killed had been buried by local inhabitants. 

At considerable personal risk, they had done their best for those who were fighting to liberate them but occasionally had marked the graves with incorrect information. 

Other casualties thought to have been killed were later found to have been moved down the medical evacuation route, subsequently died and been buried elsewhere. 

Gradually, some of this confusion could be resolved, graves were named and the temporary burial ground at Tilly-sur-Seulles was transformed into the peaceful cemetery you can visit today. 

Lance Corporal Neville CharlesImage: Lance Corporal Charles Skilton

The painstaking work by the Commemorations team to recreate what happened nearly 80 years ago enabled the case for Cpl Griffiths and L/Cpl  Skilton to be confirmed. Our research also revealed that it might be possible to name a further two graves. 

With the advantage of being able to view the details of all the graves now in our care, alongside the details of those who remain missing we have the potential today to be able to revisit the cases which could not be solved by our predecessors.

This approach allowed Trooper Morris to be confirmed as having been buried alongside his comrades. 

Sadly, the result of the fourth investigation was inconclusive. 

Despite the dedication of all those involved in trying to locate those who remain unaccounted for, we cannot always reach a clear and convincing conclusion. 

To name a grave incorrectly would be doing a great disservice to both the casualty who is buried in the grave, and the casualty wrongly named, who may lie elsewhere. But despite the challenges, CWGC and our partners will continue our efforts. 

On the 80th anniversary of their deaths on 11 June 1944, we remember Cpl Allan Edwin Griffiths, Lance Corporal Neville Charles Skilton and Trooper David Louis Morris and all those whose graves are cared for by CWGC in perpetuity.

Tags Legacy of Liberation Commemorations Our work