Dave Hill gave several examples of individuals who had been helped by the QVJFA. A note in a wartime issue of Flight magazine (from the Flight Global Archive website) stated: “Capt Noel William Ward Webb MC, a Flight Commander in the Royal Flying Corps was posted a missing in action on 16 August 1917, he has since been reported by the QVJFA as being killed on that date.” Lt Thomas Wright Carson served in 6th West Riding (Duke of Wellington’s) Regiment. On 7 January 1917 his family was told he was missing in action, but they said it did not necessarily mean he was dead. He had been in France less than eight weeks. His brother was in the same regiment but could not say whether he was dead or captured. While Thomas was out in No Mans’ Land with a couple of men on a raiding party, a flare went up and they took cover. When the flare died out, the other men looked for Thomas but there was no sign of him, nor could later patrols find him. It was assumed he had been captured as no shots had been fired. However four months later his brother was informed by the QVJFA that Thomas Wright had died on 27 December 1915.
The letter from the QVJFA to Thomas Wright’s family read: “Dear Sir, We are grieved to be the bearers of sad news about your brother Thomas. We have received the following information from Countess E. Blucher von Wahlstatt in Berlin. She saw in our last list of missing officers the name of 2nd Lt Carson, missing near Ypres, and wrote to tell us that a German officer on leave had told her that they came upon his body and later buried him with full military honours.”
My research in the UK National Archives revealed some answers about the QVJFA, or to give it its full title, the Enquiry Branch of the Queen Victoria Jubilee Fund Association, Geneva. The organisation was created by a Mr S. Goodman, also known as Mr Guttmann (the Germanised version of his surname). He was a retired British officer of the Indian Postal Department, and was living in Geneva. Documents sometimes describe him as the British pro-consul there, but it is not clear whether he held this title originally or was awarded it in recognition of his work in tracing PoWs.
It all began in November 1914, when Lady Bullough asked Goodman to help find her brother, Captain Charles de la Pasture of the Scots Guards, since the ICRC could not help. Goodman decided to send handwritten circulars to a number of PoW camps in Germany. When this proved successful, he received enquiries about other British officers who were missing in action. He then asked for photos which were attached to the circulars. As the project continued, Goodman combined the photos into 'tableaux' (about 28 photos of individual officers, displayed on a sheet).
Then in February 1915, the Germans forbade information on PoWs being passed on to private agencies. Consequently Goodman applied to the QVJFA for permission to use their name. This association provided assistance to needy British subjects in Geneva. The QVJFA agreed, and Goodman was appointed Honorary Manager of the association’s Enquiry Branch. Despite this, for most if not all of the war, the whole effort seems to have been run by Mr Goodman alone.
Initially the whole project was funded by Mr Goodman and donations from some enquirers. After these funds ran out in May 1918, photographs were only included in lists if the enquirer contributed the cost of reproduction (8s), though as funds improved, smaller donations could be accepted. The branch’s success meant that people enquiring to the British Central Prisoner of War Committee about relatives who they thought might be PoWs were sometimes directed to it.
Some of the reasons for the branch’s success were judged to be co-operation with various German aid societies, and the goodwill created in Germany due to the branch circulating some lists of German PoWs around British PoW camps. After a while, Mr Goodman began to liaise with the German Red Cross Association. He responded to an enquiry from Princess Blucher of Wahlstatt in Berlin (referred to above) about her brother who was serving in the British army (Lt W. Stapleton-Bretherton, 4th Royal Fusiliers), This led to the Princess providing certain information on British PoWs in Germany. The Swiss Catholic Mission at Friburg occasionally obtained information from the Germans about British aviators, sometimes as soon as eleven days after they were captured or killed (eleven days being fast by the standards of the time).
One final random fact: the branch’s post-war report states that superstitious men sometimes threw their identity discs away before going into action for fear that they could bring harm to wearer! This obviously did not help identify those missing in action.
My thanks again to Dave Hill for starting me off on this fascinating line of enquiry and for the quotes about various individuals mentioned above.
If you can add to the above information, I would be interested to hear from you. Thank you.
UK National Archives sources: FO 383/545, FO 383/66.