Losing a Loved One in WW1

Missing in action

When we think of the First World War, we often think of it in terms of personal loss. Most British families lost at least one relative or close friend: around 887,000 soldiers from the UK and former British colonies died between 1914 and 1918 (around ten per cent of all those who served), and over 1.6 million were injured. 

Killed in Action (KIA) and Missing in Action (MIA):

Not all soldiers died in battle: some were killed by a chance shell, grenade or bullet, while others died of their wounds or illnesses they had picked up in the trenches. When their comrades died, it was important to soldiers to retrieve their bodies and bury them in temporary graves close to the front line.

Once a soldier had been confirmed dead, officers’ next-of-kin were informed by telegram, while other ranks’ (ordinary soldiers) families received an army form sent through the post. However, the bodies of many soldiers were never found and the authorities could not always make sure that an individual was dead, so many were officially recorded as ‘missing in action’. 

In the meantime, official inquiries were made to find out whether the man was a prisoner of war, or if enemy troops had proof that he was dead. After six months with no news, the soldier's death would be recorded as having occurred on the last day he had been seen alive.

Discover the stories of two soldiers reported missing in WW1 through original documents preserved in Birmingham Museum and Surrey Heritage Centre.


Front line – (in war) the closest position of an army to its enemy
Grenade – small container filled with explosives, thrown or fired from a rifle in battle
Other ranks – ordinary soldiers who are not officers
Telegram – message sent by telegraph (radio signals), then written out and delivered by hand

Scroll down for a list of related links on this topic and see the teachers' notes page   for discussion and activity ideas.

Document icon Learning article provided by: Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery |  Surrey Heritage | 
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