KIA on 1st Anniversary

Alfred Momplhait and later, his elder brother Arthur both volunteered for service with the AIF, but only one was to return to Australia to resume the lives which they had abandoned to answer the call of duty to the Empire.

Photo: Private Arthur Momplhait [AWM H06484]
This photo has been reproduced with the permission of the Australian War Memorial

Alfred Victor Momplhait was a 28 year old clerk from Port Adelaide, South Australia when he enlisted on 17 July 1915, a year and 2 days later he was counted amongst the 5,533 Australian casualties from the Battle of Fromelles. Private Momplhait embarked from Adelaide aboard HMAT Benalla on 27 October 1915, as a member of the 11th Reinforcements, 10th Battalion. The arrival of the reinforcements would have coincided with the return of the 10th Battalion from the Gallipoli campaign. On returning to camp in Egypt the AIF was to double its size. The 10th Battalion was split to form the 10th and 50th Battalion. Private Momlphait was taken on strength with the 50th Battalion on 29th January 1916. He remained with the 50th Battalion for two weeks before being transferred to the 32nd Battalion.

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English born Bertie Greenfield had been in Australia for seven years when he enlisted in the 32nd Battalion Perth on 19th July 1915, 2 days after Alfred Victor Momplhait enlisted in Adelaide.  The 32nd Battalion had been raised on the outskirts of Adelaide, during August 1915 and had men from both South Australia and Western Australia. Private Bertie Greenfield travelled from camp in Perth to Adelaide and was a member of ‘D’ Company, 32nd Battalion aboard HMAT Geelong when it sailed from Adelaide on 18 November 1915.

One year and one day later he was also counted amongst the 5,533 casualties from the Battle of Fromelles.

Photo: Private Bertie Greenfield  [AWM P03483.021]
This photo has been reproduced with the permission of the Australian War Memorial

The 32nd Battalion along with the 29th Battalion from Victoria, the 30th Battalion from New South Wales and the 31st Battalion from Victoria & Queensland formed the 8th Brigade. The Australian War Memorial states: The 8th Brigade joined the newly raised 5th Australian Division in Egypt, and proceeded to France, destined for the Western Front, in June 1916. The 32nd Battalion fought its first major battle at Fromelles on 19 July 1916, having only entered the front-line trenches 3 days previously. The attack was a disastrous introduction to battle for the 32nd – it suffered 718 casualties, almost 75 per cent of the battalion’s total strength, but closer to 90 per cent of its actual fighting strength. Although it still spent periods in the front line, the 32nd played no major offensive role for the rest of the year.

Private Alfred Momplhait had been in the front line for even a shorter period of time, as he only returned to duty on the 18th July after spending 10 days with the 8th Field Ambulance suffering from dysentery. The 8th Brigade began its attack when it went over the top at 5:53pm. 197 men from the 32nd Battalion were killed in the Battle of Fromelles including Private Alfred Momplhait and Private Bertie Greenfield, both are amongst the ‘missing of Fromelles’.

Private Alfred Momplhait’s service record, available on line at the National Archives of Australia, shows he was killed in action on 19th July 1916. The commanding officer of 32nd Battalion had reported Alfred’s death two days after the battle. Private Momplhait’s next of kin, his elder brother Arthur Momplhait, would have been notified of his fate. A year later Arthur, a 32 year old widower, enlisted in the AIF as member of the Field Artillery.  Private Arthur Momplhait returned to Australia in June 1919.  

The family of Private Bertie Greenfield did not know the fate of their son until much later.  Bertie’s service record states he was reported as missing on 20th July 1916 and his name appeared on the Prisoner of War German List dated 4 November 1916, noted as DEAD, and later an official enquiry in March 1917 advised that he was to be reported as Killed In Action on 20th July 1916. His Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau File contains an entry describing where he was last seen …..on the German parapet. He was groaning and seriously wounded. He was seen when retiring but it was impossible to bring him in.

Greenfield family, in England, heard unofficial reports that their son had been taken prisoner and appealed to the Red Cross for information long after being notified of his death. In April 1919, two years after receiving the official notification of his death, the Red Cross wrote to Mrs E. Greenfield saying: We greatly fear the official report that he was killed in action is correct.

Photo: The body of an Australian soldier killed in German lines during the Battle of Fromelles. [AWM A01566]
This photo has been reproduced with the permission of the Australian War Memorial

Both Private Momplhait’s and Private Greenfield’s identity discs were returned by the Royal Prussian War Office to the Australian Army through the Red Cross. Copies of both men’s ‘Death Vouchers’ appear in their  Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau File . It was from within these files that Lambis Englezos gathered information to name compile the names of the 175 buried by the German army after the Battle of Fromelles.

The Australian soldiers were taken to the field adjacent to Pheasant Wood where they were placed in pits and lay undetected for nearly 92 years. 

The Australian Army last year commissioned Glasgow University Archaeological Research Department (GUARD) to undertake non-invasive surveys to assess the likelihood of burials having taken place at Pheasant Wood, and whether the ground had been disturbed by subsequent recovery.  This year’s excavations have confirmed the presence of a significant number of human remains, consistent with the German accounts of the burials of Australian and British soldiers in the pits at Pheasant Wood.

The next stage is for the Australian Government to consider the preliminary report prepared by GUARD containing the recommendations in the context of the The Defence Instructions (General) Missing In Action Presumed Killed: Recovery Of Human Remains Of Australian Defence Force Members.

It is Australian Government policy, where human remains are reported to the ADF and those remains are verified to be those of ADF members serving during World War I and listed as missing in action, presumed killed, the remains are to be buried in the nearest Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery to the place of death.

In regard to Fromelles, the Australian Army is the investigating authority and the Defence Instruction sets out its responsibilities to “assess the feasibility of successfully recovering any remains given the information provided, the size of the area to be searched, sensitivity to local issues (for example the need to disturb other grave sites in order to recover unknown remains) and the reliability of the informant.”

If the preliminary report containing the recommendations of the Glasgow University Archaeological Research Department (GUARD), recommends that the recovery of the remains is feasible, The Australian Army, as the investigating authority, is required by the Defence General Instructions 14 to “liaise with the Surgeon General ADF … for provision of forensic experts.”

The Office of Australian War Graves is to advise of the appropriate Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery in which the remains should be interred.

 In the case of the men buried in Pheasant Wood, the nearest open Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery may not have the capacity to include up to 400 new burials, which may result in the men being separated. As Madame Demassiet has indicated her intent to gift the Pheasant Wood land for the purposes of a Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery, this will be the most likely site. Following the recent closure service at the end of the excavations, the Pheasant Wood site has been secured and returned to its previous condition and the commemorative tablet has been placed on the site.

 

Photo: Carole Laignel, Secretary of Fromelles Museum at Pheasant Wood, 15/07/2008. [Carole Laignel]

 

Photo: Commemorative Plaque, Pheasant Wood. [Carole Laignel]

Where remains are identified as belonging to an ADF member, funeral arrangements are to be in accordance with normal military procedures…. and where next of kin can be contacted, the Australian Army is to notify the next of kin of the circumstances surrounding the finding of the remains and a funeral arrangements being undertaken.

The Office of Australian War Graves, acting in conjunction with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in accordance with Defence General Instruction 16 is to assign a burial plot for the remains in the appropriate Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery, erect a suitable headstone at the grave site and maintain the grave in perpetuity.
For a more detailed account of how The Defence Instructions (General) Missing In Action Presumed Killed: Recovery Of Human Remains Of Australian Defence Force Members PERS 20-4, issued on 12 December 1996 applies to the circumstances of Pheasant Wood click here and a full copy of The Defence Instructions (General) is available on-line at http://austmia.com/DI(G)PERS20-4.htm
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A number of people and organisations have expressed their views on the how the remains of the Diggers at Pheasant Wood should be dealt with. Some of these views, such as those expressed by the National Executive of the RSL (Returned Servicemen’s League) are inconsistent with the Australian Government policy and The Defence Instructions (General) Missing In Action Presumed Killed: Recovery Of Human Remains Of Australian Defence Force Members. The view of the National Executive, however, does not represent the view of all RSL members, nor all RSL sub-branches.
 

 

 

 

A resolution, overwhelmingly carried by the Ashfield RSL Sub-branch in Sydney, records that it is:
“totally opposed to the view expressed by the National Executive as stated in the NSW State President’s Report in Reveille Vol 81 No 4 under the heading ‘Fromelles’, which states ‘that those buried there remain where they are and a new memorial be established in the site’.

Further that all Diggers’ remains buried by the enemy in the pits at Pheasant Wood, as determined during the limited excavation in May-June this year, must be exhumed, separated, identified where possible and given the honour of a decent individual reburial beneath individual headstones, either identified by name or as ‘Known unto God’, in accordance with the obligation the Australian Army has under Defence Instruction (General PERS 54 – 4 Missing-In-Action presumed killed: recovery of human remains of Australian Defence Force Members) to collect and rebury the remains in a cemetery.

“Furthermore that the NSW Branch of the RSL requests National Executive to reconsider its position in view of the fact that the Diggers, especially in pits 4 & 5, in the words of ex-Digger Tim Whitford, one of the few unofficial visitors permitted to inspect the site: “They were slung in like yesterday’s rubbish. They’re not at peace.”

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The Families and Friends of the First AIF believes that the Australian Government through the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs should commit the to re-burial of the “missing of Fromelles” with individual graves and headstones in a new Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery at Pheasant Wood after DNA testing. 

 

 

 

 FROMELLES IS NOT HONOURED ON THE NATIONAL OR ANY STATE MEMORIAL IN AUSTRALIA.

FFFAIF SUPPORTS ALL EFFORTS TO RECOGNISE FROMELLES ON OR AT THE NATIONAL AND ALL STATE MEMORIALS THAT PRESENTLY LIST BATTLES BY NAME.

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