Missing in Action
Australia's World War I Grave Services, an astonishing true story of misconduct, fraud and hoaxingMarianne van Velzen
2 May 2019
Published by Allen & Unwin
By the end of World War I, 45,000 Australians had died on the Western Front. Some bodies had been hastily buried mid-battle in massed graves; others were mutilated beyond recognition. Often men were simply listed as ‘Missing in Action’ because nobody knew for sure.
Lieutenant Robert Burns was one of the missing, and now that the guns had fallen silent his father wanted to know what had become of his son. He wasn’t the only one looking for answers. A loud clamour arose from Australia for information and the need for the dead to be buried respectfully.
Many of the Australians charged with the grisly task of finding and reburying the dead were deeply flawed. Each had his own reasons for preferring to remain in France instead of returning home. In the end there was a great scandal, with allegations of ‘body hoaxing’ and gross misappropriation of money and army possessions leading to two highly secretive inquiries.
Untold until now, Missing in Action is the compelling and unexpected story of those dark days and darker deeds and a father’s desperate search for his son’s remains.