Pay for soldiers missing in action

During WW1 when a soldier was declared as missing in action, his next of kin would be informed. They would then endure a period of months while enquiries were made, for example via neutral agencies to see if the enemy had information as to his death or captivity. If no information was forthcoming, a formal presumption of the man’s death was made. But what happened to his army pay in the meantime? It was a vital matter for many ordinary families. Army Council Instruction 17 of 1916 made it all clear.

The general rule is that pay should be credited up to the actual date of death where this is definitely ascertained … but where that date is not known pay can only be credited to a date four weeks after that on which the next of kin was notified that the soldier was missing.

The guiding principle is that a man is entitled to pay while he is alive and no longer; where a man is missing he is assumed to be dead if he is not heard of for four weeks after the date on which notification of his being missing was sent to his relatives.

If evidence of an actual date of death was forthcoming, any pay that had been credited beyond that date would be recredited to the public purse.

If definite evidence that he was alive after the four weeks was forthcoming, but his actual date of death was unknown, then pay may be credited to the date when he was last known to be alive.

If death was reported during the four weeks but no definite date known, then pay would be credited up to the date of the casualty report.

The man’s pay that had been credited to his account but not issued to him, along with any gratuities, were eventually distributed in accordance with his will.


IWM image Q14339

Chunuk Bair, the easternmost point on the Gallipoli Peninsula, reached by the New Zealanders on the 8th August 1915. The photo shows human remains laid out for burial on the site of the future cemetery where the New Zealand Memorial now stands. The plot lies down the hill a little from creek. Away in the distance, the Narrows can be seen. The remains of many men who had only been declared as missing during the war were discovered on post-war battlefield clearances.