06 May 2009

Recovery of WWI dead begins

As I noted earlier, the remains of British and Australian soldiers buried in First World War mass graves at Fromelles, France, are to be moved. Work has begun. See this article from the MOD Defence News:
Work has begun to recover the bodies of up to 400 British and Australian soldiers believed to have been buried at the First World War mass graves at Fromelles in northern France.

In a simple yet poignant ceremony held yesterday, Tuesday 5 May 2009, at Pheasant Wood in the small village of Fromelles, Reverend Ray Jones from St George's Memorial Church in Ypres and Fromelles' parish priest Father Duprez blessed the site of the five mass burial pits, before the turning of the first soil began.

The process of recovering the bodies will last until September 2009 and it is hoped by both the UK and Australian Governments that identification of some of the fallen will be possible. DNA will be taken from a small cross-section of remains to test for viability.


The existence of the mass graves was confirmed in 2008 and a decision was made by the British and Australian Governments to conduct a full archaeological excavation of the site, with the cost of the recovery operation shared equally.

The soldiers' remains will initially be stored in temporary mortuary facilities and DNA samples will be extracted from a small cross-section to determine the viability of a larger testing programme, and the potential to match with surviving relatives.

By the end of the project in 2010 all the bodies will be permanently laid to rest in individual graves at a new Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery at Fromelles, the first to be constructed in fifty years. Wherever it has been possible to identify the remains, named graves will be provided.

ZUI also this article, dated 21 April:
Members of the public who believe they may be related to British soldiers buried at the First World War mass graves at Fromelles in northern France are being urged to check a list of names on a new website.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has launched the new website to help identify the bodies of the soldiers who died in one of the most tragic battles of the First World War.


Members of the public who believe they may be related to British soldiers buried at Fromelles can check the list of names at http://www.cwgc.org/fromelles/ or contact Historic Casualty Casework, Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre, Service Personnel and Veterans Agency, Imjin Barracks, Gloucester GL3 1HW. Tel: 01452 712612 Extensions 6303 or 7330, or email SPVA-JCCC-fromelles-GroupMailbox@spva.mod.uk

The Battle of Fromelles began on 19 July 1916 and was the first major battle on the Western Front involving Australian troops.

Within a twenty-four hour period the 5th Australian Division had suffered 5,533 casualties, of which 1,780 were killed, and the 61st British Division suffered losses of 1,547 men killed, wounded or taken prisoner.


The full list of names of those servicemen who may be among those buried at Fromelles is available from the Commission press office.

The Australian Army has developed a working list of the First Australian Imperial Forces soldiers it believes may be buried at the site and is encouraging relatives to register their details. Further information is available at http://www.defence.gov.au/fromelles/

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