Remains of five World War I diggers identified, 2013

The Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, Warren Snowdon, announced the identification of another five Australians killed during the Battle of Fromelles from 19 to 20 July 1916.

The newly identified soldiers were among 250 Australian and British WW1 soldiers who were recovered from a mass burial site at Pheasant Wood in France. 

The soldiers were recovered by a joint Australian Army and UK Ministry of Defence project team in 2009 before being reburied in the Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery in 2010. 

The identification brings the total number of Australians identified at Pheasant Wood to 124. Some 87 Australians and two British soldiers remain unidentified, while the headstones of another 37 are inscribed “A Soldier of the Great War – Known unto God”. 

“It is important that we are able to identify these soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice and to provide an opportunity for closure to their families,”

Remains of five World War I diggers identified, 2013
Remains of five World War I diggers identified, 2013

Minister Snowdon said. 

“These additional identifications reflect the dedication of a great team and demonstrate how the latest scientific methods and extensive research can produce outstanding results.” 

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission will erect new headstones with the identified soldiers’ details, ahead of a dedication on 19 July 2013 during the annual commemoration of the Battle of Fromelles. 

Minister Snowdon also paid tribute to the families of those diggers who remain unaccounted for and whose involvement has been vital to the identification process. 

“We are encouraged by these latest successful identifications which were made possible by the large number of extended family members, both in Australia and overseas, who provided DNA samples,” Minister Snowdon said. 

“We currently have more than 3000 family members’ details in our records but we still need more.” 

The joint Australian Army and UK Ministry of Defence project will conclude in 2014, however, the Army’s Unrecovered War Casualties team will continue to process any new information received. 

“We remain hopeful that we will be able to identify more soldiers in coming years,” Minister Snowdon said. 

“If you think you might be related to a soldier who remains unaccounted for from the Battle of Fromelles, please contact the Army.” 

The Battle of Fromelles was the first major battle fought by the Australian Imperial Force in France and is recognised as one of the worst periods in Australia’s military history. The 5th Australian Division suffered more than 5500 casualties (killed and wounded) and many of those killed remain unaccounted for, almost a century after the battle.