Preparation of the new Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery underway. (Courtesy of Commonwealth War Graves Commission)

Seventy-Five of the Soldiers Buried at Fromelles are Identified

It was announced on 17 March 2010, that the identities of seventy-five Commonwealth soldiers killed during the Battle of Fromelles in 1916, and whose remains were subsequently recovered from the mass burial site near this French village, have been established.

This achievement, described by Greg Combet, the Australian Minister for Defence Personnel, Materiel and Science, as having exceeded “our most optimistic forecasts”, means that at least seventy-five of those reinterred at the new Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery will have headstones carrying their names. All seventy-fire are Australian soldiers.

While they could not be named individually, three British soldiers were confirmed to be among the 250 soldiers recovered from the mass graves at Pheasant Wood. No British soldiers could be named at this stage and families in the UK who have been helping with the identification process have been notified.

Of the other 172 unnamed sets of remains within the burial pits, 128 were confirmed to have served the Australian Army. The remaining forty-four are, for the time being at least, classified as ‘unknown’.

Veterans Minister Kevan Jones MP said: “Although no British soldiers could be named, I am pleased that we can confirm three having served with the British Army. What is most important is that these men have all been laid to rest with the dignity and honour they deserve. The identification process will remain open for another four years, and I hope that families will continue to make contact.”

Greg Combet, confirmed that each of the 250 sets of remains that were found have been analysed using all available historical, anthropological, artefact and DNA evidence. “For those who have been identified so far, DNA proved to be a key piece of the identification puzzle,” he concluded, adding “I am also pleased to say that we have strong reason to believe that more identification could occur in the future.”

The Joint Identification Board will reconvene in May to consider additional family samples that have only recently been returned from Australia. This additional testing and second Board will help ensure that as many soldiers as possible are identified before the commemorative event on 19 July 2010, that will mark the official opening of the new cemetery.

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