Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Cemetery Dedication and Burial 19th July 2010
On 27 May 2008, the first day of a three week project, the outline of two burial pits was uncovered. A small excavator and hand trowels were used to meticulously remove soil and lead to the discovery of two more burial pit outlines. Over the following days, the team excavated sections of each burial pit to determine the presence of human remains. Discoveries in each of the burial pits not only confirmed that human remains were present but that it appeared that the remains of Australian and British soldiers lost during the Battle of Fromelles in 1916 were present. At the end of the excavation period the GUARD team had identified a total of eight pits and confirmed that human remains were present in five of them. A subsequent GUARD assessment of the excavations predicted that there may have been up to 400 sets of remains buried there. In May 2009, phase two was commenced by a British archaeology company – Oxford Archaeology, supervised by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission on behalf of the Australian and British governments. Oxford archaeology commenced excavating all the burial pits identified during the exploratory work of GUARD in 2008. Using a specialist team of forensic and investigative professionals including archaeologists, forensic anthropologists, odontologists, crime scene recorders and x-ray specialists, all of the pits were opened and the remains of 250 Australian and British soldiers were successfully exhumed. The work carried out by Oxford Archaeology broke new ground in the development of enhanced techniques for removing large a number of remains for post mortem analysis. Each set of remains was carefully removed and a forensic post-mortem examination was conducted. The individual sets of remains were x-rayed, photographed and every detail documented. Each set of remains was carefully packed and placed into secure storage and bone samples were taken for DNA analysis, The third phase of the project commenced in January 2010. During January and February of that year, 249 of the 250 soldiers were reinterred at the Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery, the first new cemetery built by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in over 50 years. The cemetery is within sight of Pheasant Wood and the place where they had lain unmarked for almost a century and a short distance from the battlefield on which they gave their lives. To properly recognise the commencement of the reinterments, the reinterment of the first soldier on 30 January 2010 was hosted by the Mayor of Fromelles, Mr Hubert Huchette. In attendance was the Australian Minister for Veterans Affairs, Mr Alan Griffin; the United Kingdom Minister for Veterans, Mr Kevan Jones; Vice-Chairman of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Sir Ian Garnett; and a representative of the French Minister for Defence, General Bruno Cuche; as well as several hundred spectators. Through the remainder of January and most of February the joint Australian Army and British Army ceremonial team re-interred a further 248 soldiers, leaving just one – a soldier "Known only to God"
– for reinterment with full military honours on 19 July 2010, the 94th anniversary of the Battle of Fromelles. The reinterment phase concluded on 19 July 2010 when Her Excellency, Ms Quentin Bryce AC, Governor General of Australia, His Royal Highness Prince Charles, The Prince of Wales, government representatives, relatives and 5500 spectators watched as soldiers from the Australian and British Armies laid the final soldier to rest. (Text from the Australian Army website)
Battle of Fromelles
The battle of Fromelles on 19 July 1916 was a bloody initiation for Australian soldiers to warfare on the Western Front. Soldiers of the newly arrived 5th Australian Division, together with the British 61st Division, were ordered to attack strongly fortified German front line positions near the Aubers Ridge in French Flanders. The attack was intended as a feint to hold German reserves from moving south to the Somme where a large Allied offensive had begun on 1 July. The feint was a disastrous failure. Australian and British soldiers assaulted over open ground in broad daylight and under direct observation and heavy fire from the German lines. Over 5,500 Australians became casualties. Almost 2,000 of them were killed in action or died of wounds and some 400 were captured. This is believed to be the greatest loss by a single division in 24 hours during the entire First World War. Some consider Fromelles the most tragic event in Australia’s history. Over two years after the battle, on the day of the Armistice of 11 November 1918 when the guns of the Western Front finally ceased firing, Australian official war correspondent, Charles Bean, wandered over the battlefield of Fromelles and observed the grisly aftermath of the battle: “We found the old No-Man’s-Land simply full of our dead”, he recorded, “the skulls and bones and torn uniforms were lying about everywhere”. Soon after the war these remains were gathered to construct VC Corner Cemetery, the only solely Australian war cemetery in France. It is also the only cemetery without headstones. There are no epitaphs to individual soldiers, simply a stone wall inscribed with the names of 1,299 Australians who died in battle nearby and who have no known graves. The unidentified remains of 410 are buried in mass graves under two grass plots in the cemetery. For nearly 80 years this sombre monument remained the only conspicuous reminder of the tragic events of Fromelles until, in July 1998, a new Australian Memorial Park was dedicated there. Situated close to VC Corner Cemetery on a part of the old German front line which was briefly captured and held overnight by the 14th Australian Brigade on 19/20 July, the park includes the stark remains of four German block-houses. A bronze statue, titled ‘Cobbers’, by Australian sculptor Peter Corlett, depicts Sergeant Simon Fraser of the 57th Battalion in an enduring image of the aftermath of the battle, the rescue of the wounded. Until recent years, 1,335 Australian soldiers remained ‘missing’ from the Fromelles battle, having no known grave. Then in 2007, following persistent research by retired Melbourne teacher, Lambis Englezos, archaeological investigations began to uncover the remains of some 200 Australian and 50 British soldiers who were buried in a mass grave at Pheasant Wood by German troops in 1916. Between 30 January and 19 February 2010, the remains of 249 soldiers were reinterred with full military honours in Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery, newly constructed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Over 90 Australian soldiers were identified by name and more may still be identified. Dr Peter Pedersen talks about the significance of the battle of Fromelles:
The Dedication Service and Burial on 19th July 2010
The opening of the first Commonwealth War Grave in nearly fifty years was attended by Their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales, The Duchess of Cornwall and The Duke of Kent, Their Excellencies The Governor General of The Commonwealth of Australia, Mrs Quentin Bryce, AC, the French Minister of State for Defence, Mr Hubert Falco, The Chief of Staff of the General Staff of the British Army, general Sir David Richards, The Australian Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Ken Gillespie and other guests. Following the arrival of the most senior of guests, HRH The Duke of Kent, President of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, welcomed everyone to the ceremony. An excellent illustration and performance of the story of The Battle of Fromelles was given before the arrival of the coffin of the last soldier to be buried in the cemetery. The coffin was transported on a First World War military wagon after processing from close to where the bodies were found and through the village to the cemetery. The clergy was headed by The Venerable Stephen Robbins, QHC, Chaplain-General to Her Majesty’s Land Forces British Army, accompanied by The Reverend Russell Mutzelburg, Principal Chaplain Australian Army, The Reverend Catie Inches-Ogden, senior Chaplain Army Headquarters (Australia), The Reverend Father Paschal Hanrahan, CF, Roman Catholic Chaplain, Royal Corps of Signals British Army. The Minden Band of The Queen’s Division, British Army, provided the musical accompaniment under the direction of Captain Simon Haw. The coffin was brought into the cemetery and taken to the open grave where it was lowered into the grave. The Australian Army Collect was read by Lieutenant General Ken Gillespie: “Almighty God, strengthen and protect all who serve in the Australian Army, and grant them your blessing. May they work together in a spirit of loyalty, courage and friendship. Fill them with high ideals, and inspire them with a spirit of love and good will for all mankind. We make this prayer through him who died in the service of other, Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.” Lieutenant Colonel Jim Landon, Commander, 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers read their Collect: “O God our Guide from of old, grant that wherever thy servants of The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers are called upon to serve, we may follow the example of thy servant St George and ever prove steadfast in faith and valiant in battle, through him who is the Captain of our salvation, Jesus Christ our Lord.” The Rifles Collect was then read by Lieutenant General Sir Nick Parker, Colonel Commandant: “O Almighty God, the sure stronghold of each succeeding age, guard us your servants of The Rifles, that we may uphold and be worthy of the great traditions of our former Regiments; and as we were chosen to be swift and bold, may we seek with courage your grace in every time of need, and so be patient and preserve in running the race that is set before us, as did your Son Jesus Christ, our Lord.” The Exhortation was given by The Honourable Alan Griffin, MP, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Australia. The firing party fired three shots that was followed by the Last Post, one minute silence and Reveille. HRH Prince Charles laid a wreath that was followed by the senior guests and others laying theirs. His Royal Highness Dedicated the cemetery followed by HE Mrs Quentin Bryce who led the tributes the fallen. Children from the village provided the guests with single roses that were placed on the grave. Following the national anthems of France, Australia and Great Britain the guests paraded through the Guard of Honour provided by the gardeners from the CWGC who had worked on creating the cemetery. Cars took the guests to a reception at the local town hall after which Camilla, HRH The Duchess of Cornwall came and spoke to the very small crowd that were waiting to wave them off. I was lucky enough to be the first person HRH greeted and we had a short chat. She was, as always, absolutely beautiful and so wonderfully charming. For me it was a perfect end to a most special day.
Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery
Fromelles is a small village situated in the Nord Pas de Calais region of Northern France, 22kms west of Lille and 104kms south east of Calais, close to the villages of Aubers and Herlies. The cemetery is sign posted from the main N41 Lille - La Basse road. When arriving in Fromelles the cemetery is located on Rue de la Basse Ville opposite the church and civil cemetery. In the early evening of 19th July 1916, near the village of Fromelles, in northern France, two infantry divisions newly arrived on the Western Front, the 5th Australian and British 61st (South Midland) attacked a four thousand yard section of the German frontline centred on a notorious strongpoint called the ‘Sugar Loaf’. Advancing over unfavourable ground, in clear view of resolute and expectant defenders, the attackers suffered terrible casualties in a matter of minutes. The action turned into a bloody catastrophe - the Australians had over 5,500 killed, wounded and missing; 61st Division reported over 1,500 killed, wounded and missing. No tactical advantages resulted from the action and it remains the worst day in Australian military history. For a more in-depth account of the 1916 Battle of Fromelles visit www.cwgc.org/fromelles. Completed in July 2010, Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery is the first new war cemetery to be built by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in fifty years. The cemetery contains two hundred and fifty Australian and British soldiers, whose remains were recovered in 2009 from a number of mass graves located behind nearby ‘Pheasant Wood’, where they had been buried by the Germans following the disastrous battle of Fromelles on Wednesday 19th and Thursday 20th July 1916. The cemetery was officially dedicated by HRH Prince Charles on 19th July 2010 and was designed by Barry Edwards.
The GPS co-ordinates are: N 50.60809, E 2.85212
No of Identified Casualties: 144
The photographs below begin with Fromelles as the cemetery was being completed. The cemetery was surrounded by high boarding that was decorated by pictures drawn by children and in addition there were information boards telling the story of the discovery of the bodies and construction of the cemetery. In the center was a makeshift ‘alter’ for wreathes to be laid with a window looking into the area around the cemetery. Opposite, and close to where the burial pits were, were the temporary buildings where the examination of the remains, artifacts and DNA testing took place. There are some photographs of the day before the Dedication where the hearse was practicing for the actual event.