The Battle for Fromelles took place on July 19 1916. It resulted in the death of 4000 British and commonwealth soldiers and has consequently become known as the worst 24 hours in Australian history. Since 2009, LGC scientists have worked alongside the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and Oxford Archaeology to identify the fallen soldiers. So far, 144 soldiers have been identified. In July, I travelled to Fromelles alongside LGC scientists who had worked on the Fromelles project – James Walker, Victoria Moore and Daniel Moore – for a ceremony to mark the 98th anniversary of the battle.
The memorial service was extremely moving. It was attended by veterans from France, Britain and Australia, who opened the ceremony with a military procession. Representatives from the French government, the British Foreign Office and the Australian army then spoke very movingly about the battle and the men who lost their lives in it. The ceremony was concluded by children from the local primary school placing flowers on the graves of each of the soldiers that had been recently identified as the soldiers’ names were read out. This was incredibly moving and left very few dry eyes.
Victoria explained that, “it was so emotional to hear the names being called out. It becomes more than just a story, it really hit home what we had done and what it meant to their families.”
James Walker, Daniel Moore and Victoria Moore at Fromelles cemetery.
After the ceremony, living relatives of the recently identified soldiers, many of whom had travelled from Australia, visited the graves of their ancestors. Each person who attended the ceremony was given a small wooden cross to place on the grave of a soldier.
We were very privileged to have the opportunity to meet the families and see the graves of soldiers that LGC has identified. James described it as a day of remembrance:
“Remembering the five years we at LGC have been involved in Fromelles: highs and lows; remembering attending the first year commemoration of the new Commonwealth War Grave at Fromelles (which took place in 2010); and finally sharing in the memories of the 20 families that have had their never forgotten dead heroes finally named on headstones in a very pretty and peaceful cemetery.”
The ceremony was followed by drinks and brioche at the local primary school, which has been renamed Cobber School, after the Australian troops who lost their lives in Fromelles. At the school we had the opportunity to talk to relatives of Fromelles soldiers. We met a man whose great uncle had been remembered during the service. He had travelled from Adelaide for the ceremony and explained that it meant a great deal to him to see his relative, who he’d heard about all his life, be laid to rest with dignity.
To end the day, we visited the Museum of the Battle of Fromelles, which provided information on the work that went into the Fromelles project and on the identification of the soldiers. The museum also had mock trenches and artefacts from the graves to show what life would have been like there during the war. Finally, the museum displayed information about and photos of all the soldiers that had been identified. This further drove home the human element of this remarkable project.
Overall, we all had a interesting and rather emotional day. It was really moving to see the impact of LGC’s work in this incredible project. This was made particularly clear when speaking to relatives of soldiers and visiting the graves of soldiers LGC has helped to identify.
A video about the Fromelles project, including footage of our recent trip will be available soon so make sure you keep an eye on our YouTube channel. For more photos of our trip, have a look at our Facebook page.
Article by Emma Swaden, Communications Assistant at LGC.