Home' Defence Magazine : Issue 4 2009 Contents 18
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ustralia’s first battle on the
Western Front in 1916, the
Battle of Fromelles, would
prove to be the nation’s most
bloody—1,917 killed and
More than 90 years on, and after years of
extensive research, five burial pits have been
discovered at Fromelles in an area situated
behind what were once German lines. These pits
are believed to contain the remains of up to 400
Australian and British soldiers.
Now well underway, the project to expertly
recover and indentify this group of courageous
soldiers will see they are finally buried with honour
Based in France for the duration of the recovery,
Fromelles Project Manager Lieutenant Colonel
(LTCOL) James Brownlie said he and his team
remained busy coordinating the effort on behalf of
the Chief of Army, as well as working to meet the
needs of the British Government, the UK Ministry
of Defense, the French Government, and the
Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC).
“It’s an honour for me to come to work everyday
and try and get to the point where the service and
sacrifice of so many people can be recognised by the
modern ADF,” LTCOL Brownlie said.
“It was 93 years ago, and that’s a hell of a
long time, but I’m just proud to be able to assist in
indentifying and honouring the otherwise unknown
individuals who gave their lives for our country.
“In the Army, if something happens to you, you
get looked after. It might take a while, but we will
always look after our own. And that’s what I feel
like I’m doing, looking after my own.”
Before starting the dig, the Army identified and
listed 191 Australian WW1 soldiers believed to be
among those buried, and in mid 2008 undertook a
limited excavation of the suspected group burial site.
“The Australian Army works under a Defence
Instruction that states there be no speculative
searching for our war dead unless there is
compelling circumstantial evidence pointing to a
likely location,” LTCOL Brownlie said.
“Given the information available, it is
impossible to be absolutely certain who is buried at
Fromelles, however we, and many other historians
and interest groups believed the list provided a solid
enough foundation for further investigation.”
With this, permission for the recovery was
granted and after an extensive tender process, UK-
based experts Oxford Archaeology were awarded
the dig contract based on their ability to meet the
unique requirements of the project.
“It was decided that the Australian and British
Governments will share the cost of the Pheasant
Wood excavation, which is expected to take up to
six months depending on several factors including
the weather, soil conditions and the actual number
of remains recovered,” LTCOL Brownlie said.
Working to complete the recovery by
September 2009, Oxford Archaeology project
manager Dr Louise Loe said she was both
honoured and excited to be working on such a
historically significant project.
“We have invested a great deal in planning
for this, the Australian, British Governments and
the Commonwealth War Graves Commission even
more,” Dr Loe said.
“We are deeply honoured to be undertaking
such an important task—to recover the remains
of individuals who sacrificed their lives and to lay
them to rest in a cemetery that is befitting of this.
“I hope that this will bring closure to those
families who lost their loved ones.”
maIn: The cemetery site chosen to be the final resting
place for the WWI soldiers found at Fromelles.
BeloW: a member of a French Veterans association
at a ceremony at the site of the WW1 mass grave in the
French town of Fromelles prior to the commencement
of unearthing the bodies Photo: Alastair Miller
Final honour For
By Jack Foster
We are deeply honoured
to be undertaking such an
important task—to recover
the remains of individuals
who sacrificed their lives
cemetery that is befitting of
this. I hope that this will bring
closure to those families who
lost their loved ones.
– Oxford Archaeology Project Manager
Dr. Louise Loe
continued p.20 >
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