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Fromelles16: July 19th events


velo350
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I have to agree with Colin....isn't trying to identify these men the least we could do? After all they did for us? I can't believe we can spend billions on bullets and guns and tanks and not spend the money to try and identify those men who faced bullets and guns and tanks and never came home.

I know they lie with their mates but Im sure it wasn't the last resting place they hoped would be theirs. They were young strong men who probably spent a great portion of their last hours hoping and praying they would make it through the next few hours so they could come back home and die an old man, in peace, and be buried under a sunny sky alongside their wives and families. Not thrown in a mass grave for the sake of hygiene and brevity by the enemy.

90 years is a long time, but it means nothing to those who never knew what happened to their relatives - all it does it widen the gap. My great uncle disappeared at Mouquet Farm and was never seen again. His photo, in his uniform, hangs on the same nail on the same wall of the same house in the same place it was when he left and never came back. His mother and father and sisters and brothers (including my grandfather) never knew what happened to him. Bill's death is a family mystery that will continue to be passed down the line to my boys and I fear that despite all my reading and investigating and searching and late nights the mystery will never be solved.

I know this forum is supposed to be just the facts but the fact is, I just have this feeling that I can't shake that Bill isn't resting in peace because he's missing.

In Patrick's book, Lambis said he walked along the pits and talked to the boys. He felt very drawn to the place. He just had a gut feeling they were there and he talked to them. He said ' g'day boys, I know its been a long time but be patient, don't worry, we'll get you'.

If we can solve the mystery for some of these families and it can be done with dignity and respect, shouldn't we at least try?

And now I will try to stick to the facts - its past midnight and I have got to get some sleep. If I read another RCWM letter I will probably fall asleep at my keyboard :)

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A warm greeting to all,

As I am only new to the forum,it probably isn't my place to offer any opinions regarding I.D and the final resting place of the fallen. However, after reading the posts of recent times I am so anxious that after tossing and turning all night, this morning I have to make some comment.

It is extremely difficult to know what to do.There are equally factual and eloquent arguments on both sides, especially in regard to the identification. For my part, initially the thought of ratting around amongst the bones, trying to piece each skeleton together like a giant jigsaw, felt disrespectful. Then I considered the handful of family members still alive, connected to these men and my grief became overwhelming. I know that the men were killed some time ago, but for some of us the discovery of these pits has opened up old wounds which are as raw today as they were 90 years ago. We must remember this.

Perhaps the remains are in such a state of decomposition that identification through DNA testing will not be an option anyway, which will only add to the distress some of us are feeling at the moment.

When all is done and dusted, compromise may have to be the order of the day. Sadly, there are so many varying requests and opinions that ultimately it may be impossible to satisfy everyone completely.

In some ways those of us connected with these men should take comfort that at last they have been found. We can be reasonably sure that we know who most of them are through the most tenacious and unending effort from a wonderful group of people whom we should all look up to.

To also keep things in perspective, we must remember that there are thousands upon thousands of other men - equally as important, who lived, loved and were loved as much as the ones here at Fromelle. Poor souls blown apart or buried by high explosives whose bodies will never ever be found......

...............just to tragic to even continue...........

regards to all,

K.

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I have to agree with Colin....isn't trying to identify these men the least we could do? After all they did for us? I can't believe we can spend billions on bullets and guns and tanks and not spend the money to try and identify those men who faced bullets and guns and tanks and never came home.

I know they lie with their mates but Im sure it wasn't the last resting place they hoped would be theirs. They were young strong men who probably spent a great portion of their last hours hoping and praying they would make it through the next few hours so they could come back home and die an old man, in peace, and be buried under a sunny sky alongside their wives and families. Not thrown in a mass grave for the sake of hygiene and brevity by the enemy.

Couldn't agree more, Aussie!

Roel

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I appreciate that this can be very emotional for some direct descendants, as indeed it is throughout the areas where the war was fought.

However the point is well made that there are limitations to DNA testing, that bodies are likely to be mixed, and that many of the missing will be in other cemeteries nearby. Also it must surely be the case, that a serious DNA exercise might take years before bodies could be identified and reburied, with presumably, because of the virtually certain mingling of remains, large quantities of unallocated partial remains. I am far from convinced that this would be a dignified way to treat the dead.

Reading the whole thread, I can only endorse the last post from Tom (Towisuk), and urge that the site be commemorated through the CWGC with the participation of British and Australian governments in a proper manner. For those who will never know, then surely Plumer's words from the opening of the Menin Gate are entirely appropriate, and perhaps should be spoken again at the formal dedication of the site.

Keith

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C,est La Guerre !!!!!

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It was announced earlier today that, surprisingly, remains had been found in small area of Pit No. 6. This pit was one of the three which were originally considered “unused” by the Germans.

Although only something in the region of thirty sets of remains have been uncovered, it has now been officially stated that the pits are believed to contain something in excess of two hundred, a figure gauged from the density of the remains so far discovered.

The excavation at the site will cease tomorrow, the pits being carefully backfilled to cover all remains. At some point during the day, a period of silence will be observed to give those most closely involved with the excavation a chance to pay their respects to the men who are buried there. A final report will now be prepared and the eventual decision as to what should become of the site and its contents will be made jointly by the Australian and British governments and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

I've attached to this post a photo (courtesy of The Sydney Morning Herald) of one of the rising sun collar badges which were found in Pit No. 4 on Monday.

V.

post-3979-1213293025.jpg

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V,

Thanks for the update, now we just have to wait and see what everyone involved decides.

Andy

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At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old man (a badge I wear with pride, I might add), would it be possible to keep this thread at a factual level, to keep us informed of what is happening with the exploratory dig, etc.

We can speculate and postulate til the cows come home about what should and shouldn't happen at the site, with any remains unearthed, etc., but it won't make a blind bit of difference.

Keeping the the thread as a reflection of site activity would serve a useful purpose to all with an interest in this matter.

(Lights blue touchpaper and retires to safe distance)

:D

http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/06/13/2273479.htm

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Should a decision on what to do when/if any remains were discovered have been hammered out long before the actual dig? They had to be aware of the likelihood that the site would prove 'fruitful'.

Does the confirmation that there are possibly 200+ men there with at least some ephemera not now raise the prospect of ghoulish collectors/diggers raiding the site while the governments dither about what to do?

Hope they have some good security there.

Matthew

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British war grave found in northern France

By Henry Samuel in Paris

Last Updated: 2:34AM BST 13/06/2008

Daily Telegraph

London

British archaeologists have for the first time unearthed "absolute" proof of the remains of British soldiers at a recently-discovered mass World War I grave in northern France.

Two British Army buttons, a collar fastener and a British matchbox have been unearthed at the site of the grave in Fromelles, the British ministry of defence has announced.

Fromelles, a small village near the French city of Lille, was the scene of the poorly planned and futile battle of July 19 1916, in which 5,500 Australians and 1,500 Britons were mown down in a "lattice of death" of German crossfire in just a few hours.

Wave upon wave of troops fell in a bid to capture 400 yards of ground, defended by an impregnable concrete tower of German machine guns in broad daylight. It has been described as the worst 24 hours in Australian history, but is little known in Britain –overshadowed by the nearby battle of the Somme.

The archaeologists led by a team from Glasgow University had already found two Australian army badges earlier this week at the site on private fields sloping down to a wood, where the remains of up to 400 servicemen are believed to be buried.

But it was unclear until this week whether Britons were also buried there.

"These are elements of uniform unique to the British, something we were hoping to find," said Dr Tony Pollard, who leads the Glasgow team.

"In two of the pits, we found two General Service buttons, which have the British army's lion and the unicorn standing either side of the crown and an inscription. They would fasten up the front of the army tunic and were used to fasten epaulettes and pockets."

His team also found a hook and eye collar fastener. "These are unique to the British tunic, as the Australian ones were fastened to the bottom and were very plain."

Also on the scene was a "quintessentially English" matchbox made in Gloucester. "It looked almost as if it had been dropped yesterday," said Dr Pollard.

"Given the sheer number of bodies and records tell us that there are 173 Australians here, there must be a lot of Britons," he said.

Refilling the pits, Dr Pollard added: "It's strange putting them back under, it's like putting them to bed, it's very moving. We've been face to face with these men for three weeks now and feel we have a duty of care to them now."

Project historian Peter Barton said the discovery was "by far the largest World War I mass grave found and probably the largest modern mass grave not the result of genocide."

"There's nothing to compare with this," he said.

The exploratory excavation has found "a number of unidentified remains" and the Glasgow team is now assessing their condition. No human remains will be removed during the dig, which finishes on Friday. The historic discovery will be marked by a short service with Britons, Australians and French locals.

The grave site - pits 10 yards long by 2.5 yards wide, which were hastily dug by German troops - was located last year after painstaking research into German records and thanks to aerial photography and ground penetrating radar.

German troops were under orders to treat the dead with respect and not to loot their possessions.

However, in all six pits examined, archaeologists found two tiers of tightly-packed bodies - a sign that the Germans were forced to work fast due to the searing heat and decomposing dead.

After seeing the remains, Derek Twigg, the Veterans Minister, said: "This is the first time that we've had absolute confirmation that there are British bodies as well as Australian remains in these pits."

"Visiting this in person brings home to you the sacrifices that our soldiers made and the viciousness of the battle that took place here and the fact that so many people lost their lives," he told the Telegraph.

"It is particularly moving to have confirmation that there are British soldiers as well, but also that they are lying side by side with their Australian comrades: they fought together and died together."

Mr Twigg said it was "far too premature" to take a decision on whether the bodies should remain in their current resting place or be exhumed and repatriated.

"But I want to make it very clear that we will make sure that those who are buried here and died in the battles around Fromelles will be properly honoured and commemorated," he said.

The next step will depend on the results of the archaeological report and the advice of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

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Does the confirmation that there are possibly 200+ men there with at least some ephemera not now raise the prospect of ghoulish collectors/diggers raiding the site while the governments dither about what to do?

Hope they have some good security there.

Matthew

I have already raised this particular Suject Matthew in POST 206,but it seems to have been Ignored completely.I cannot imagine a 24 Hour security presence being maintained at the site.Something i am sure the Grave Robbers/Scavengers are all to well aware of.It will be only a matter of Time before they pay a Visit and carry out their own excavations.If they were previously unaware of the sites existence,they certainly know of it now after all the media coverage.

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All

Has anyone heard from Lambis in the last day or three. What is his opinion now that the dig draws to a close?

Peter

I met Lambis yesterday in Fromelles, at lunch time to "gallodrome" his headquarters within walking distance of the site.

except to say as usual "all's good," and joked about the flavor of his "panaché", he was not very talkative about the site ...

Michel

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I have already raised this particular Suject Matthew in POST 206,but it seems to have been Ignored completely.I cannot imagine a 24 Hour security presence being maintained at the site.Something i am sure the Grave Robbers/Scavengers are all to well aware of.It will be only a matter of Time before they pay a Visit and carry out their own excavations.If they were previously unaware of the sites existence,they certainly know of it now after all the media coverage.

Let us not forget that we are in France, that the land is private property ... and that the French authorities and the owner are directly concerned by the problems of supervision and site security ... nothing will be simple.

Michel

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Has anyone heard from Lambis in the last day or three. What is his opinion now that the dig draws to a close?

Like all of those who have been at the site and seen what is there to be seen, Lambis has also had time to reflect on his feelings with regard to the future of Pheasant Wood and the men who lie there. We spoke of it at great length last Saturday and again on Sunday morning. I’m not willing to state here what was said between us as it is Lambis’ place to voice his own opinion and I am sure that he will do just that once he has left Fromelles tomorrow and arrived back home.

All I will say on the subject is that the men lying in those pits look, for all the world, as if they have just slept a very long sleep and it seems almost sacrilege to disturb them. These men lived together, fought together, died together, were buried together and have lain together for ninety-two years. Pheasant Wood has all the feeling of a cemetery, but without the “trimmings” of honour. Whatever “official” decision is taken, if Pheasant Wood is to become their final resting place, then I can think of no better place for it to be. Perhaps, in years to come as I walk my section of the battlefield and pick up the pitiful and shattered remains of those who were denied such a peaceful burial place, I will have some new area of consecrated ground in which to bury my “men”.

V.

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Let us not forget that we are in France, that the land is private property ... and that the French authorities and the owner are directly concerned by the problems of supervision and site security ... nothing will be simple.

Michel, you are quite right, nothing is ever simple - but it can be made simple. A sign simply stating "Private Land" will do nothing to deter someone who is determined to go in and have a good root around. When I first realised, some months ago, that the purpose of the excavation was to "uncover and ascertain", I was concerned that this would leave the whole area open to a certain amount of undesirable attention. When I voiced this concern to Martial Delebarre, the answer I received was "Why would anyone want to do that?" - bless him!

The question of security was again raised at last Saturday's "open" morning. "Will you [the British/Australian/French authorities] make sure that this field will not become a place where treasure hunters will appear as soon as the archaeological team has left?" The answer we were given was that the ground will be secured "in an invisible way" just below the surface to prevent any digging taking place. It is also intended that the authorities officially ask the inhabitants of Fromelles to keep an eye on the place and to alert the police immediately they have any concerns regarding the security of the site. Immediately, about forty hands shot up in the air as people volunteered their services!

V.

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While I hope that the idea no one will disturb the site after the dig is over I can only recall the time we were digging near Auchy and had uncovered a few items and prepared the trench for the following day only to return to find the items we discovered were gone and numerous holes dotted the site where looters had come in and taken items. Just what was taken and how important they were will never be known.

While the local people will help it is in an area where 24 hour surveillance and even ground sensors might not be enough to prevent some enterprising individuals from trying their luck. I hope all goes well.

Ralph

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While the local people will help it is in an area where 24 hour surveillance and even ground sensors might not be enough to prevent some enterprising individuals from trying their luck.

The ground covering the pits will be completely sealed. The site will be perfectly secure, I give you my promise (for what it's worth!).

V.

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Pals,

We do seem to be getting seriously ahead of ourselves and heading of on tangents here.

First I would like to thank George Lambis and friends for his/their research, dedication and proselytising politicians and other decision makers on this.

As a former Australian soldier, I can personally say I have been very pleased at the handling of events since the initial scan last year by the Australian Army, Glasgow University Archaeological Research Division, the CWGC and others. Though I must say I have been exceedingly disappointed in the lack of mention of George and friends in the initial media announcement by Mr Snowdon and LTGEN Leahy, From my point of view, I would hope both can make appropriate corrections to the public record before the CA retires at the end of the month.

Anyway, we need to be mindful that for everything to get to where it is today has taken more than Georges excellent research, it has also taken many others, “bureaucrats’” in government convinced of George's argument to convey the story to others and confirm the quality of his research through academic and scientific "peer review". It has taken those so often denigrated "bureaucrats’" to proselytise other departments, ministers of government, the RSL and British Legion, the owner of the property, the CWGC and the French and British governments to actually undertake the necessary archaeological survey and exploration to be where we are today.

Since last year the task has been, correctly, in the hands of the GUARD archaeologists’, CWGC/OAWG(DVA), the Australian Army History Unit, MOD, French Ministry of Defence and the respective governments. Though somewhat disappointed at the claimed “exclusion” of George, I do understand this is the time for the professional to go about their business mindful of all of the moral, ethical and professional protocols and behaviour. It requires careful handling of the site so it doesn’t become a media circus and site for gawkers and ultimately grave robbers, if they hadn’t screened the site of how many Pals would be, unintentionally ghoulishly gawking with the media?

There are far more stakeholders in this than just some of the committed amateur historians’, GWF Pals and descendants, all of whom are as mindful of the need for appropriate discovery, recognition and commemoration. In many ways this is far more important to every past and serving British and Australian soldier, sailor and airperson than it may be to interested civilian and descendants, who never knew the individuals killed (How many individuals do you know who wouldn’t know where their relatives are buried, let alone visit them to pay their respects). It is about the appropriate handling and respect of our mates’ remains and how we would hope to be treated in similar circumstances, if we are killed and lost in combat. I for one wouldn’t want unnecessary individuals traipsing over the graves of the fallen in their present condition and circumstances, no matter how well meaning.

I am therefore very happy at how things are proceeding and am disturbed at the carry on about disinterring everyone for DNA testing (would we then disinter every unknown soldier for DNA testing?), which by necessity would be somewhat invasive, rather than the alternatives of; disinterring for simple group reburial; or the purchase of the land, erection of a Cross of Sacrifice and establishment of a communal CWGC graveyard allowing the fallen to rest in peace without further disturbance, with appropriate access and parking nearby. Nevertheless I appreciate and understand everyone’s interest, but there are a lot of things to go through in the coming months for a consensus to be arrived at, that is respectful to the fallen, honours them appropriately and accords with the desires of many today.

With regards to the future, as the Australian Department of Defence Fromelle’s Update site http://www.defence.gov.au/fromelles/updates.htm says:

Decisions on the identification and commemoration of remains will be made in conjunction with the British Government and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Can I say that GUARD has not received the accolades they should have so far. I recall last year the howls and guffaw's from many, over the supposed quality of research and the methodology employed by GUARD when MANY, and no doubt some here at the GWF, were still saying nothing was there, despite GUARD's preliminary report.

As someone who knows of individuals involved in the formal process going on, I can say they are diligent, honest and will do their utmost to ensure our Fromelle’s fallen, both Australian and British are respected and honoured appropriately. I have no doubt the decision that the CWGC and the respective governments make will be a sound one and that the ceremony that the descendants’, dignitaries, interested parties and the Australian, British and French Army’s participate in, will honour the fallen. I hope I can afford to be there to pay my respects at that time.

Kindest,

Chris H

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It is also intended that the authorities officially ask the inhabitants of Fromelles to keep an eye on the place and to alert the police immediately they have any concerns regarding the security of the site. Immediately, about forty hands shot up in the air as people volunteered their services!

V.

And I bet they will do so to the very best of their ability.

The French do remember.

Thanks Victoria.

Kim

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Like everyone else, I wait the outcome of the dig and subsequent discussions with great interest. Of course, we interested onlookers will continue to speculate among ourselves. I believe I am correct in saying that if the owner of the property decides that no more excavation or investigation is to take place, then that will be the end of it. Heavy gauge reinforcing mats, buried about 20 cms deep, will effectively seal off the excavations from casual prospectors.

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Victoria,

Thank you for your informative posts,

Chris H

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Great news !

this morning took place at 11 am an official ceremony attended by military authorities, civil and religious.

At the end of the ceremony, the landowner who was present officially announced her decision to donate the land on condition that it is thereafter open to all so that all those who are based can be honored as they deserve it.

I was able to speak a few moments: "This field is not mine, it belongs only to those who are buried there," she told me.

Michel

Here the photograph of this wonderfull Lady and her grandson taked today at Phaesant Wood

post-10155-1213360907.jpg

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