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Remembered Today:


Tom Tulloch-Marshall
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I have a particular interest in Maurice Leslie Reid, 32nd Bn Australian Infantry, III.C.10. (and do realise that there are many references to him on the www).

Can anybody tell me how it came about that he was firstly identified as an unknown British soldier before his true ID was established ?

Tom

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Tom, these three men were identified as British from the kit found on them when their remains were recovered from Pheasant Wood. The information forwarded to me was that the remains which proved to be those of Maurice Reid were found to be wearing British boots. Certain items of British kit were allocated to some men of the AIF en route to France, but I’m sure that one of our Australian colleagues will be able to correct me or clarify this.

I have never been convinced that any of these three men were British (that is to say serving with the British Army), but would be delighted to be proved wrong.

V.

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That's pretty much as I have it as well Victoria. There were three sets of remains believed to be British purely because of items of kit found with them. Of course these may have been obtained by an Australian prior to the battle (perhaps even in Egypt) or issued to him for one reason or another.

Because one of these men has now been identified as Maurice Reid, there are ony two 'suspected' unknown British soldiers but like Victoria I have suspicions they are probably also Australians.

Cheers,

Tim L.

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Thanks, Tim. It's nice to know that I'm not always barking up the wrong tree ....... ^_^

V.

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Thanks for the informative replies, both here, and the PM info from others. Prompts two other questions >

How many of the identified (named) Australian burials would have been identified as Australians if it hadnt been for DNA evidence ?

Why are there so many graves at Fromelles which are completely unidentified, presuming that the man were buried with uniforms on ?

Tom
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Why are there so many graves at Fromelles which are completely unidentified, presuming that the man were buried with uniforms on ?

Tom,

Apart from Pheasant Wood, many of the remains were recovered in the years immediately after the war, some were partial skeletons, as most lay in no-man's land until late 1919 and the 1920's. Unless they had something tangible with the remains to identify them, and few did, then they were unknown. Same with the men recovered from Pheasant Wood.

Regards

Chris

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Tom,

Apart from Pheasant Wood, many of the remains were recovered in the years immediately after the war, some were partial skeletons, as most lay in no-man's land until late 1919 and the 1920's. Unless they had something tangible with the remains to identify them, and few did, then they were unknown. Same with the men recovered from Pheasant Wood.

Regards

Chris

Chris – my questions specifically refer to the burials at Fromelles (Pheasant Wood). Your “answer” baffles me :wacko:

Tom

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Sorry Tom. Misunderstood your question? I thought you meant the great number of unknowns from the Battle of Fromelles who are buried at VC Corner cemetery. Nonetheless, very few of those at Pheasant Wood had any items on them that identified them, and unless there is DNA available to identify them - they remain unknowns

Regards

Chris

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Of the 250 sets of remains recovered from Pheasant Wood, to date 210 soldiers have been identified as Australian (that is to say AIF) and two as British. The remaining 38 sets of remains could not be assigned a nationality, there being nothing found with them to aid the identification process.

From memory, I believe that we were oginally told that something like 3 sets of remains had been identified as British, 42 sets of remains could not be identified by nationality and that six sets of remains are unlikely, for one reason or another, to ever be formally identified, possibly through being only partial remains, possibly through a lack of viable DNA.

Does that help or hinder?

V.

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Victoria – What struck me here is that the Fromelles burials were carried out shortly after the battle and I’d presumed (wrongly ?) that the men would have been buried “as found” by the Germans, - in uniform.

Given the number of items on a British or Australian uniform which would identify the nationality of the wearer (buttons, etc), and the relative care with which the burials and exhumations were carried out, I was just surprised that there are so many completely unidentified men.

It was the “British identifications” which concerned me, and I now think I have a clearer picture.

Tom

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Yes, they were buried within days of the battle but at the orders of the German command, all personal items and ID tags were to be removed from the bodies. These items were eventually forwarded back to families in Australia.

Of course, not all items were found and removed by the Germans as is evidenced by the artifacts that were uncovered in the graves (although I know of only one ID tag being recovered) but not all of these specified the nationality of the owner.

Yes, uniform, buttons and insignia helped to nominate a soldier's nationality and probably accounts for the 200 or so originally able to be distinguished this way. But given ground conditions, decomposition and subsequent soil movement over the following 95 years, no doubt a percentage of these items shifted, decayed and/or rotted so they could not necessarily be attributed to one particular soldier. Hence we have those who could not initially be identified by nationality.

I'm not sure what criteria was set for establishing nationality - one item, two items or perhaps even three items required to confirm, but personally, given the numbers and method of burial, I think the initial results were excellent and exceeded all expectations.

I also think it important to note that the Germans 'care' when burying the bodies should not be confused with the 'care' we associate with burials. Sure, they made efforts to be somewhat respectful but I would suggest 'care' in terms of this battefield mass grave should be more closely associated with 'expediency' rather than respect. There were signs that initial efforts were made to make the burials neat and methodical but clearly as the job progressed, less attention to this was taken and eventually the bodies were simply being flung in. And to be honest, who can blame the soldiers employed to the task - it must have been a horrendous job that they just wanted to complete asap. So any thoughts that badges, buttons, etc should be easily associated with individual soldiers because of the imagined neat way they were buried i.e. side by side in carefully placed rows - is unfortunately not really accurate.

Cheers,

Tim L.

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How many of the identified (named) Australian burials would have been identified as Australians if it hadnt been for DNA evidence ?

Sorry Tom, I missed this question.

I've done a comparison between the initial March 2010 cemetery map and the latest one in May 2012.

Of the 44 sets of remains recovered that could not intially be attributed with any nationality, 7 have subsequently been identified (named) as Australian by the use of DNA comparison with descendants. That number doesn't include the misidentification of Maurice Reid as British.

Cheers,

Tim L.

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Sorry Tom, I missed this question.

I've done a comparison between the initial March 2010 cemetery map and the latest one in May 2012.

Of the 44 sets of remains recovered that could not intially be attributed with any nationality, 7 have subsequently been identified (named) as Australian by the use of DNA comparison with descendants. That number doesn't include the misidentification of Maurice Reid as British.

Cheers, Tim L.

Thanks. So, as things stand now, not too much short of 20% of the burials at Fromelles are completely unidentified. Nobody knows whether they are Australian, British, or even German (please, somebody tell me if I've misunderstood something !). Does anybody know what the figures would have been after identifications due to artifacts / uniform items etc but before any additional DNA identifications were made (ie identifications of nationality which depended entirely upon DNA).

Hope the question is clear !

Tom

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Tom,

I must admit that when I first read your question I immediately thought of this: [media=]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wd8qzqfPfdM[/media] :thumbsup:

Currenty there are 37 completely unidentified men buried at the new Pheasant Wood cemetery which is closer to 15% of the total 250.

If I understand your question correctly, when you say 'identifications' you are referring to establishing nationality rather than personal identification of the individual soldiers? You are trying to find the figures of nationality breakdown based on artifacts and uniform post-recovery but prior to DNA testing. The problem is that these figures were difficult to come by because they were never announced until after the first round of DNA testing was completed. Using both my own and Victoria's recollections above the closest I can come is the following:

Pre-DNA testing

199 - unidentified Australian

3 - unidentified British

48 - completely unidentified

Post-DNA testing to 2012 (remembering testing will continue to 2014)

119 - identified Australian

92 - unidentified Australian

2 - unidentified British

37 - completely unidentified

I hope that's what you're after.

Cheers,

Tim L.

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Tom, I must admit that when I first read your question I immediately thought of this: :thumbsup: ..

Quite. I read it back a couple of times, changed the odd word, then decided I was over-explaining things and thought I'd stop before I got a headache !

Your answer is what I was looking for.

Pre DNA – 19.2% completely unidentified in terms of nationality.

Post DNA – 14.8% completely unidentified in terms of nationality.

I’m a bit worried by your note that results were not announced “… until after the first round of DNA testing was completed.”, but then I do tend to worry about things like that.

Thanks again - Tom

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Yeah, it was a bit odd. Try as I might, the authorities were very reluctant to release any kind of figures relating to nationality before the first round of DNA testing had been completed. I recall it frustrated me at the time because we had a initial list of 191 Australians and I wanted to know approximately how many more (at least) we needed to be combing the files for to try and find evidence of them having been buried by the Germans.

I still can't explain why it seemed to be guarded like a state secret but there were a few similar snippets of fact that seemed to be withheld at different times throughout the recovery process which were a bit baffling. In the end I just put it down to pollies and the like wanting to be able to make the occasional 'big announcement'. But that didn't help all those volunteers like ourselves who needed the information to better direct our research.

But that's all water under the bridge now and it was a learning curve for all involved. If there's a next time we'll all be better prepared for having had this experience.

Cheers,

Tim L.

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