Repatriation is the process of bringing back the body of a Service Person who has died to their home or place of origin. This article covers:
- MOD policy on repatriation
- Non-operational repatriation
- Operational repatriation
- Viewing the body
- Registering a death
The MOD policy is currently to repatriate all deceased Service personal, including any who are Foreign and Commonwealth (F&C), to their country of origin either to or through the UK where ever possible and as soon as is practicable.
This was not always the case during earlier conflicts and many have graves overseas, generally in cemeteries under the Commonwealth Graves Commission. Repatriation to locations other than the UK may be considered but this will be on a case-by-case basis.
Repatriation of a service person from a non operational duty station will normally be low profile through the most appropriate airport, escorted by the MOD-contracted funeral director and Service Police. Once cleared through customs, and with the authority of the coroner in which the airport resides, the deceased is handed over to the family's funeral director and the coroner for the area in which the deceased is to be interred.
Any Coroner’s Inquest will be convened and eventually held once all the relevant information has been gathered by the coroner. There will be no military ceremony and the handover from airline to funeral director takes place airside where there is no public access.
If a death occurs overseas when the person was NOT on duty, such as on holiday, then the repatriation arrangements should reside with an individual’s travel insurance arrangements. However the MOD will generally provide the normal level of support on arrival in the UK as necessary.
Repatriation from an operational theatre will normally be into a designated Service Airport, such as RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire (from September 2011), and will be accompanied by a military ceremony on behalf of the Nation and the Service of the dead.
Normally up to seven family members will be invited to attend the ceremony at public expense. The Visiting Officer appointed to the family will arrange and coordinate the family’s attendance. There will be an opportunity for the family to spend some time with the coffin in a private chapel prior to the body being taken to the John Radcliffe Hospital for post mortem.
Prior to the plane arriving the family will be briefed on the ceremony and also briefed on procedures by the Coroner’s Officer. The flight will be accompanied by a Service police officer who will hand the necessary documentation to the Coroner’s Officer and at this point the deceased will pass into the authority of HM Coroner.
Following the post mortem the MOD undertakers will take the deceased to their premises in London and prepare the body and make arrangements to take it to the funeral director they have chosen. The MOD undertakers also send a mortician to an overseas operational area to take care of the body and advise on the extent of injuries and the advisability of viewing.
For a natural death, there is normally no difference from any death in civilian life. However, for the death that happens in operational circumstances and / or in a theatre of war, there may be other complicating factors.
For an operational repatriation it will not be possible to view the body until after the post mortem and it is generally advisable to wait until the deceased has been brought back to the family undertaker. The NOK and bereaved family has the right to view the body should they wish. However, it is important that they are given informed advice as to the state of the body if there is any chance that it will cause unnecessary distress. This advice can come from the Coroner, the MOD Contractor who is tasked with accepting the body from the point of entry to UK , or the family undertaker.
Where there has been profound physical damage eg following explosions of fires it may be necessary to conduct DNA testing to ensure that identity is correct and the body is as complete as possible. This may take several weeks. In the worst possible case there may be no remains at all and this poses its own particular problems with acceptance, especially when the death happened away from home . In these cases the VO will be briefed by the JCCC to inform the family at the earliest opportunity and the Coroner’s Officer or the MOD undertaker can be approached for further information.
All deaths must be formally registered in order to obtain a Death Certificate. Deaths in the UK must be registered by the Registrar of the district where the death took place. However UK Registrars are not able to register deaths overseas, even for UK nationals. Nevertheless it is still possible to obtain a UK registration (and a UK death certificate) for deaths overseas among members of the armed forces, but it must be done by a legally authorised Registering Officer.
An interim Death Certificate will be issued by HM Coroner when the body is released for burial and this is generally sufficient for most purposes. The final death certificate will be provided following the inquest.