Ashbridge, Sarah I. (2021) Military Identification: Identity discs 1914-18 and the recovery of fallen soldiers. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

The identity disc has become an iconic piece of military kit, representing a physical embodiment of the soldier’s identity. Despite their visual familiarity and their important role Zahrodisc was designed to facilitate the identification of soldiers who died on the battlefield, but a change in production material in 1914 had the unintended consequence of creating tens of thousands of missing and unknown soldiers. Identity discs are objects which transcended the military need to account for deaths, responding also to the Governmental need to mediate public grief. Their existence facilitated the development of graves registration practice resulting in the rapid transformation of burial practices during an ongoing war. On the Home Front, the delivery of an identity disc accompanied the confirmation of death, offering a final interaction with the deceased in the absence of a body or a grave within visiting distance. This thesis investigates the development of identity discs by the British Army, reflecting upon the various ways that they were used by soldiers fighting on the Western Front between 1914-18. By investigating the cultures associated with death and identification it has been possible to provide an explanation for the phenomena of ‘the Missing’ despite what appears to be a period of rapid innovation. It argues that the British developments need to be situated within the operational responses to the humanitarian requirements of the 1906 Geneva Convention. It also argues for a significant reappraisal of the role of Sir Fabian Ware, founder of what is known today as the Commonwealth Ware Graves Commission, and the role of humanitarian partners in managing the response to mass casualties in a prolonged conflict. Finally, in presenting a comprehensive history of the identity disc’s material culture, including its physical composition and embodied use, this thesis offers explanation for the lack of representation of British identity discs within the archaeological record today.

Ashbridge THESIS.pdf - Accepted Version
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