One way that’s been suggested to me by a couple of people to get hold of casualty statistics is to look at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database. This won’t provide information by month – and in a phone call today the CWGC told me that their computer can’t cope with trying to drag that information out of their database. You can, however, enter a search for a death where you don’t put in any details but year and service. This way, you can get annual figures for deaths for the armed services, civilians and for the merchant navy (the system will also let you search for the Australian, New Zealand, South African and Indian dead, which I think is probably essential).
We need to be clear about what figures we’re looking at here. This is a post war accounting of wartime dead, not a reflection of the wartime experience. It’s different in nature, for example, from the casualty lists the War Office compiled for wartime operations from cables back from the theatre, which necessarily reflect uncertainty over the missing. Looking just at the dead, and not at the wounded or prisoners, might seem to have some advantages. It was possible for servicemen to be wounded more than once, but death is a one off thing. Even so, there are major discrepancies between the figures derived here, and the total figures provided in Cmd 6832. These relate to how wartime death is defined – a topic which I need to research more, and that I’m going to come back to in a separate post. It’s worth noting, however, that the CWGC database of civilian casualties suggests over a thousand civilian deaths in 1939. I presume that these were passengers on ships lost at sea, and it suggests that the graph here should be relabelled as ‘Civilian Casualties from Enemy Bombing’.
If we were to take the figures generated by the CWGC database as unproblematic, then we’d be able to state that ‘In 1940 and 1941, more British civilians than soldiers died as a result of the war, but in no year did British civilian deaths exceed those of the three armed services combined.’ But I want to do a lot more work on the numbers and on definitions before I either stand by that, or put up the graphs I’ve drawn from the information.