Second World War Britain saw almost 330,000 of its citizens killed. The vast majority of these were service personnel. However, while the state had well-developed mechanisms for burying, when possible, and commemorating the dead of the fighting forces; it did not have such established practices in place to bury or commemorate the approximately 63,000 civilians who died as a result of aerial bombardment. It put in place measures to allow the mass burial of corpses by local authorities, in ceremonies that were imagined as removing the management of the dead from the control of their living relatives whilst transferring the ‘honour’ paid to the military dead to their civilian counterparts. Although the numbers of the dead were considerably smaller than predicted, mass funerals were at times enacted.
Both the bodies of the dead and the grief of the bereaved had a particular ‘worth’ in wartime and, if managed correctly, could be of benefit to the wartime state. This chapter examines the mass burial of the civilian dead in order to consider both the worth of grief and the value of the bodies of the dead in wartime.