Dedication of the Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery: Burial of the Last Unknown Soldier

Fromelles Australian Memorial

In 2008, a mass grave site was unearthed near Fromelles in northern France. This site contained the remains of 250 troops from the 5th Australian Division and British 61st Division who fought at the Battle of Fromelles. Through the use of DNA typing as well as archaeological, anthropological and historical evidence, scientists were able to assign names to many of the soldiers killed during that battle in which 1,780 members of the 5th Australian Division and 503 from the 61st British Division were lost between 6:00pm on July 19 and 8:00am on July 20, 1916.

On July 19, on the 94th anniversary of the Battle of Fromelles, a dedication ceremony is taking place at the Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery in northern France. During this dedication, the last of the 250 Australian and British soldiers found at the Pheasant Wood site is being laid to rest with full military honors. This is a fitting day to present an update on the progress made since I first wrote of the identification efforts in May of 2009, shortly after excavation began. Continue reading

The Battle at Fromelles: Identifying World War I Remains Using DNA

Australian 53rd Battalion at Fromelles, 19 July 1916

Australian 53rd Battalion at Fromelles, 19 July 1916

On July 19, 1916, British and Australian forces launched a diversionary attack on heavily fortified German front lines near the tiny village of Fromelles in northern France to try to divert German resources from the Battle of the Somme, which was taking place only 50 miles to the south. Many men fell as they tried to cross the unfavorable ground between Allied trenches and the German fortifications. More than 5,500 Australian troops and 1,500 British soldiers were killed, wounded or captured during the two-day battle, making this Australia’s most costly battle of World War I. After Allied commanders refused a truce offered by the Germans to retrieve the fallen soldiers, the Germans recovered the bodies, loaded them onto a train, then transported them the short distance to Bois de Faisan, known as Pheasant Wood in English. Up to 400 of these bodies were buried there in five of eight hastily dug pits, then covered with the heavy clay soil and forgotten. These graves were lost to history until recently. Continue reading