19 July was the 105th anniversary of the Battle of Fromelles, the first engagement of the Australian Imperial Force on the Western Front following the withdrawal from Gallipoli. It was and remains the largest loss of Australian life in a 24 hour period with 1,917 killed or died of wounds, 3,416 wounded and 496 taken prisoner totalling 5,533 casualties. In 2008, the graves of 250 soldiers buried by the Germans after the battle were located and in 2010 reinterred in the new Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery and 166 of these soldiers have now been identified by name.
Download a copy of this report by clicking here Fromelles Day 2021 Commemorations @ Sydney, Melbourne and Fromelles.
Unfortunately, the number of new cases of COVID19 in Sydney increased in the fortnight before the scheduled Commemoration and led to a lock-down for Greater Sydney that has subsequently been extended until the end of August. This meant that the Commemorative Procession and Commemoration Service that FFFAIF helps organise in conjunction with the Trustees of the Anzac Memorial was cancelled.
Fortunately, staff at the Anzac Memorial were able to lay a FFFAIF-supplied wreath in the Hall of Memory and the Office of Veterans Affairs Communications team posted the event on social media. This enabled the Anzac Memorial Trustees to honour the 1966 request of the final parade of the 5th Division veterans on the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Fromelles to always remember the sacrifice of the 8,100 soldiers of the 5th Division Killed in Action during the First World War and those who have died since.
Fromelles Day 2021 Sydney Wreath on 5th Division wreath stand in the
Anzac Memorial France and Belgium niche.
Photos by NSW Anzac Memorial & Office of Veterans’ Affairs
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There was also a wreath laying scheduled at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne in conjunction with the Friends of the 15th Brigade that was impacted by the lock-down in Melbourne. Lambis Englezos AM, Co-Founder of the Friends of the 15th Brigade and Honorary Member of FFFAIF laid a wreath at 2pm.
Fromelles Day 2021 Melbourne Lambis Englezos with wreath at Cobbers Statue
Photo from Lambis Englezos
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St Clare’s College Fromelles Documentary
Fortunately for those unable to attend these commemorations, they were able to have their own personal reflection and view the recently launched 30 minute St Clare’s College Fromelles Documentary. This extraordinary documentary reflects their 3 years of research, interviewing descendants and using innovative technology and gives an overview of the battle as well as an appreciation of its impact on families and the significance of the Battle of Fromelles in Australian history today in addition to highlighting the students’ work.
At 6pm French time on 19th, precisely the time when the Australians were attacking the German lines (2am AEST Tuesday 20th), a Commemorative Ceremony was held in Fromelles with a drink of Friendship at the Cobbers School afterwards. Face masks and social distancing was required. F.W.T.M.14-18 Secretary and FFFAIF Honorary Member, Carole Laignel [CL] of Fromelles and FFFAIF Belgian Member Daneille Roubroeks [DR] attended the Commemoration and have provided photographs of the Commemoration, as has Carole’s friend Dominique Bascour [DB] and Fromelles Museum’s Geoffrey Bouillet [FM].
Carole sets the scene:
At 6pm, the bells of the church were ringing and the important persons of the ceremony entered the very beautiful well flowered cemetery!
It was very hot, around 27°C, no wind, sunny and clear! We were lucky!
For the association A.S.B.F.* and then F.W.T.M.14-18, it was a special event, as it was the 30th anniversary of their first celebration of the Battle of Fromelles.
*In 1990 the Association pour le Souvenir de la Bataille de Fromelles (A.S.B.F. 1914-1918) created the Fromelles Weppes Terre de Mémoire 14-18, a museum in the town hall at Fromelles, which exhibited many of the artefacts found on the old battlefield.
Earlier in the afternoon, a wreath was laid by Martial and Catherine Delebarre on behalf of the F.W.T.M.14-18 at the Kennedy Memorial to Commemorate those who fell in the Battle of Aubers Ridge on 9 May 1915 as well as those soldiers of the British 61st Division in the Battle of Fromelles on 19 July 1916.
The Commemoration at the Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery commenced with the entry of about 40 flag bearers from various sections of the L’Union Nationale des Combattants (UNC – similar to the RSL Sub-Branches in Australia). Some had travelled significant distances and is testament to the esteem in which the memory of the Australian soldiers’ is held in France.
Dignitaries entered including, M. Richard Smith, Sous Préfet (most senior provincial official) and Her Excellency Ms Gillian Bird, Australian Ambassador to France and the Mayor of Fromelles. M. Jean-Gabrielle Masson. Captain Ken Macaulay-Black RAN represented Colonel Joel Dooley, Australian Defence Attaché and was followed by Ms Rebecca Doyle, Counsellor at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA).
Carole estimated that around 100 people were there, silent, moved with a profound respect for the Australian soldiers killed in action during the 2 days of the Battle of Fromelles.
Master of Ceremonies, Lieutenant Colonel François Nozaïc welcomed those attending and introduced the Mayor of Fromelles, M. Jean-Gabrielle Masson. [Carole says he was speaking in very good French!]
Click here to see the Order of Service
The historical context of the Battle of Fromelles was presented by Ms Rebecca Doyle, Counsellor, Department of Veterans Affairs.
French and Australian Commemorative Addresses were presented by Mr Richard Smith, Sous Préfet and Her Excellency Ms Gillian Bird, Australian Ambassador to France.
Individual tributes were laid to the fallen with children of Cobbers School laying 2 roses (one white & one red) at the graves of soldiers “Known unto God”. There was a stone on the headstone to make it easier for them to find the grave.
The Official Wreath laying followed, led by M. Richard Smith, Sous Prefet and Australian Ambassador Ms Gillian Bird.
Jean-Gabriel Masson, Mayor of Fromelles and Pierre Dugardin laid a wreath on behalf of the village of Fromelles and the UNC Fromelles
Florence Morlighem, Deputy Du Nord and Frederick Marchand, Senator Du Nord laid wreaths. A wreath was also laid on behalf of Monsieur Damien Castelain, President of the European Metropolis of Lille. CAPT Ken Macaulay-Black RAN laid a wreath on behalf of the Australian Defence Forces and Ms Rebecca Doyle laid a wreath on behalf of the Australian Department of Veteran’s’ Affairs.
A representative of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) and a Commodore of the Canadian Defence Forces also laid wreaths.
A British Army Colonel laid a wreath alongside Lt.COL Philippe Blanchard, President, UNC Sequedin section.
Martial Delebarre AM and Jean Marie Bailleul laid a wreath on behalf of Fromelles Weppes Terre de Mémoire 14-18 (F.W.TM.14-18). A wreath was also laid by a Belgian soldier, (wearing a green beret) member of a Commandos’s association in memory of the soldiers who fought in the Battle of Fromelles.
A wreath was on behalf of the 31st Battalion Association by Corrine Seillier (Pierre’s wife) and a niece of Annie Moreel for Madame Demassiet.
Wreaths of Senator Du Nord, Mayor of Fromelles, Department of Veterans’ Affairs, 31st Bn Association & CWGC, and Sous Prefet, Region du Nord, Metropolis of Lille, UNC Sequedin. Photos: CL, DB
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The Ode of Remembrance was recited in English by Captain Ken Macaulay-Brown RAN, who had participated in last year’s Commemoration and was representing Colonel Joel Dooley, Australian Defence Attaché in France, and then by Pierre Dugardin, President UNC Fromelles section in French.
The Last Post was sounded, followed by A Minute’s Silence and the Rouse.
The National Anthems of France and Australia were played.
Master of Ceremonies, LTCOL Francois Nozaic concluded the Commemoration and invited the Flag bearers to lead the Dignitaries in procession.
Prior to the Commemorative Service, FWTM Martial and Catherine Delebarre had laid a tribute on behalf of FWTM at the headstones of the Wilson brothers Sam and Eric, both killed in the battle and lying side by side.
Tributes for Sam and Eric Wilson. Photos: DB
Fromelles personalities resting after the Commemoration
Pierre Sellier, who is well known in Australia for posting tributes to Australian Soldiers who fought in the Battle of Fromelles rests in the entry to the Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery with Madame Demassiet and families. Madame Demassiet is the current owner of the land in which burial pits were dug by the Germans following the Battle and from where the remains of 250 soldiers were recovered and reinterred with full military honours in the Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery in 2010.
As the sun sets over the Cemetery, the words of Rudyard Kipling’s Recessional come to mind:
The tumult and the shouting dies;
The Captains and the Kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
Thanks to them!
May they rest in Peace
Lest we forget.
Acknowledgements and Appreciation
Thanks to Carole, Danielle, Dominique and Geoffrey for their photographs and reports.
Thanks to the Australian Embassy, FTWM, Cobbers School, Musee de la Bataille de Fromelles and the Fromelles community for organising the Commemoration.
Thanks to the Fromelles community for caring for our Australian and British soldiers’ graves and welcoming Australians and other visitors to your community.