The Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Remembering Fromelles website and the Australian Army Fromelles Project Group (AFPG) website have both been updated following the release of the names of the soldiers identified as being buried by the German Army near Pheasant Wood following the Battle of Fromelles in July 1916.
Photo: Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery – top soil being spread in front of Plots I and II, 4 March 2010 [CWGC]
The Australian Army Fromelles Project Group website Project Update for March thanks the soldiers who had recently returned from the reburials in France and the volunteers from the Army History Unit for assisting in contacting over 430 family members across the globe who are registered with them for the 75 named soldiers and advises that letters have now gone out to all registered relatives advising them of the next steps in the process. There are also updated photos in the Image library of the CWGC Remembering Fromelles website that can be downloaded.
The Australian Army Fromelles Project Group website also includes the Cemetery layout of the new CWGC Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery showing the burial position by category for the named and un-named Australians, un-named British and remaining unidentified soldiers. Read in conjunction with the Results of the Identification Board document First_Fromelles_soldiers_identified.pdf available for downloading from the Department of Defence website, the locations of the graves of the named soldiers can be determined.
Photo: Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery – turf being spread 16 March 2010 [CWGC]
The AFPG site also has updated statistics showing:
The Battle of Fromelles
1333 – AIF Soldiers killed who have no known grave.*
1121 – AIF soldiers buried in local cemeteries as ‘unknown’.*
212 – AIF soldiers not accounted for.*
The Project (at 23 Mar 10)
701 – Soldiers with registered contacts.
2171 – Relatives registered with Army.
75 – Of the 250 soldiers identified.
The Original Working List (at 23 Mar 10)
191 – Soldiers on Army’s original Working List.
768 – Relatives for soldiers on that list.
161 – Soldiers with contacts from that list.
57 – Soldiers identified from that list.
* Numbers provided by the Office of Australian War Graves
With 203 soldiers being identified as serving with the AIF, and a probability of some Australians among the 44 that cannot yet be distinguished as either Australian or British soldiers, this would suggest that the Office of Australian War Graves estimate of 212 AIF soldiers not accounted for will be equalled or exceeded. The inference from this is that it would be unlikely that there are any or many Australian soldiers buried in locations other than Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries.
Photo: Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery – turf in front of Plot I, 9 March 2010 [CWGC]
The statistics also indicate that 18 soldiers who have been identified were not on the “Original Working List” that was compiled using 4 criteria:
- The name of the soldier was recorded as having appeared on a German death list;
- the location of German “death vouchers” in a soldier’s records indicating that he fell at Fromelles;
- the soldier’s identity disc was noted as having been returned from Germany; and
- the evidence strongly suggests the soldier died in or behind the German lines.
Clearly, the German Army buried the bodies of at least 18 soldiers, for whom the documentary evidence was not as strong as those on the Original Working List. Presumably these soldiers were identified through DNA matching with relatives, with possibly some artefacts helping to confirm their identities. As viable DNA samples have been recovered from the remains of all but about 6 of the 250 sets of remains recovered, and the DNA matching with relatives provides almost absolute proof of identity, the best prospects of further identification is by extending the collection of DNA samples from relatives. The AFPG has a list of soldiers without contacts from the Original Working List for which it is still seeking family contacts. In addition research by FFFAIF members Sandra Playle and Tim Lycett and the Fromelles Descendants Database team identified another 4 soldiers that currently have named headstones but could possibly have been buried by the German Army and were added to the “Working List”. Their analysis is presented in the most recent edition of FFFAIF’s DIGGER magazine.
Both the CWGC and Australian Army Fromelles Project Group have appealed for further family members that had a soldier listed as “missing” following the Battle of Fromelles and have not provided a DNA sample to register with them. The nature of inheritance of DNA is relatively complex, but the larger the number of relatives providing DNA samples the greater the prospect of a DNA match occurring. For those who wish to have a greater understanding of the use of DNA techniques, the posting *DNA and Family Trees contains background and links to useful web sites. The CWGC Remembering Fromelles website also has a document for downloading on DNA testing which is “a colour coded, bullet-point guide to the Fromelles process”.
Photo: Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery – planting around the Cross of Sacrifice, 16 March 2010 [CWGC]
The Families and Friends of the First AIF applauds the joint Australian–UK decision, to conduct a full DNA testing program on the remains of Australian and British soldiers found in mass graves at Pheasant Wood (Fromelles), and for their continuing commitment to identify as many of the fallen as is possible. We also thank the Australian, UK and French governments for affording dignified individual reburials for these soldiers, buried by German soldiers following the Battle of Fromelles on 19/20 July 1916, in the new Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery.
The Families and Friends of the First AIF hopes that there will be many more soldiers’ identities established in the future and would like to see whether, for the small number of soldiers where viable DNA has not been able to be extracted by LGC Forensics, other world class laboratories are able to establish a DNA profile in the short term.
The Families and Friends of the First AIF welcomes the forthcoming issue of a new 20 cent coin to commemorate the Lost Diggers of Fromelles. This is some way towards proper recognition from the Commonwealth for the sacrifices these men made at Fromelles.
The Families and Friends of the First AIF seeks to have National and State Memorials honour FROMELLES by inscription in recognition of the service and sacrifice of the soldiers of the 5th Australian Division at Fromelles.