On 30th January 2010, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) dedicated their first new war cemetery for 50 years at Fromelles, north of Lille. Politicians from both the British and Australian governments attended the ceremony to witness the burial of an unknown soldier with full military honours.
During the service, an Australian soldiers played the ‘Last Post’ on a cornet that was thought to have belonged to a soldier who fought in the Battle of Fromelles.
The battle itself was planned as a means of diverting the attention of German forces away from the major Allied attacks taking place along the Western Front around the Somme. A combination of British and Australian forces assaulted German lines around Fromelles but the attack was a disaster - the Australians had not yet gained any experience on the front lines and as a result lost more than 5,500 in the assault.
Many years later, in 2008, a farmer in Fromelles four what was eventually proved to be the first. Of six mass graves of 250 Allied soldiers. It is believed that the soldiers were buried quickly by the Germans to prevent the spread of disease as the attack took place largely on German lines at the height of a hot summer.
Those excavating the site said they believed the soldiers were still buried with order and respect - which was normal during the war - despite the hurry to get them away from German troops.
The mark the deaths of those who had been discovered in Fromelles, the CWGC decided to build a new dedicated cemetery that would be opened on 19th July 1010. The first burial took place on 30th January that year and was placed with a headstone reading “Known Unto God” due to the fact that his name was unknown.
Sadly this lack of identity was the case for all buried in the mass graves but those who believe they have an ancestor who died at Fromelles have been encouraged to provide a DNA sample so they have the chance of finding out if their relatives were buried among those found. However, scientists stressed that the DNA in the bodies has degraded over the past 90 years, which will impact on the results.
The other issue that faces the scientists is the fact that there have only been 250 bodies recovered to date, but it is believed that 5,500 Australians and 1,500 British soldiers died in the Battle of Fromelles. This means it is possible that relatives could come forward in the hope of finding their loved ones among those found and discover the they were not among the bodies.
DNA specialists usually use what they refer to as the ‘Seven Markers’ but because of the 90 years degradation and the large generational gap, they only have two to go on: the Y (Paternal) and the mitochondria (Maternal) profiles
Despite this, the work has proved very successful for the team in terms of their discoveries. One of the bodies, for example, was still holding a Bible in its pocket while another had a return rail ticket from Perth to Freemantle. An Australian soldier was also found to be carrying a small boomerang into battle. All these discoveries and lost artefacts help the scientists paint a more accurate picture of the state of mind of those going into battle in Fromelles.
"Fromelles Military Cemetery". HistoryLearning.com. 2019. Web.