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Artefacts found at Fromelles provide clues to nationality of WW1 soldiers Print E-mail

Latest News - Press release from the MOD

The operation to recover the remains of WW1 British and Australian soldiers buried in mass graves at Fromelles in France is on schedule and will be completed in September.

Oxford Archaeology have excavated the first two graves and work is already advanced on the next two. The excavation of two further pits has been completed and these did not contain any remains or artefacts. Having fully exposed four graves and established how the bodies were laid in two of them, archaeologists now believe the number of soldiers buried at Fromelles is between 250 and 300. More than 100 have been recovered to date.

The purse and coins
There has been a number of finds during the excavation which directly associate individuals with the Australian or British Armies. Personal items recovered include: a heart-shaped leather pouch containing a solid gold cross and a copper alloy crucifix; a leather heart; a leather coin purse with its contents; and a leather wrist strap.

The artefacts demonstrate the excellent conditions for preservation within the graves.  Last week a whole boot with sock and inner stocking were recovered. A paper train ticket was also among the items found. The ticket was a second class return from Fremantle to Perth, where Western Australian soldiers signed up for duty. Fremantle was their point of embarkation for Europe.

British and Australian families who believe they have connections to, or information on, the soldiers who may be buried at Fromelles are being urged to come forward to assist with identification.

DNA samples are currently being taken from a number of the remains for the pilot study being undertaken in the UK by LGC Forensics and the results are expected by the end of July. If the DNA is viable it is hoped further testing can be used to link the soldiers to living relatives.

All remains will be buried in a new Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) cemetery currently under construction at the site.

The 93rd anniversary of the battle takes place on Sunday 19th July and will be marked in a traditional ceremony by the villagers of Fromelles, who lay wreaths at the site. A commemorative service attended by the British, Australian and French governments will take place on 19 July 2010 to mark the reburial of the remains and the creation of the new cemetery.

Veterans Minister Kevan Jones said:
“This Sunday marks the 93rd anniversary of the Battle of Fromelles and it is a fitting time to remember and reflect upon the sacrifice of these men. I would urge people who think they may have a relative who died there to check the list of names and get in touch.  I am pleased with the progress being made on this important project, to identify these soldiers and honour them with a dignified burial.”

Louise Loe, project manager for Oxford Archaeology, said:  

“The momentum of the operation continues to be excellent - indeed we are slightly ahead of schedule. Our team of experts is recovering the remains of each soldier in a dignified manner and uncovering artefacts that will prove invaluable in the identification process later.

“All of us involved on the project are honoured to be here. Although at times it is a deeply moving experience, we are focussed on the job in hand – giving these men the dignity in death they so richly deserve.”

Notes to Editors

1. Photographs of artefacts discovered so far and recent images of work in progress at the site are available on the Defence News Imagery website at www.dni.mod.uk, including footage for broadcast.

2. The full list of names of Australian and British servicemen who may be among those buried at Fromelles is available from the Fromelles Project web site www.cwgc.org/fromelles

3. Anyone believing they may be related to British soldiers buried at Fromelles should contact the Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre, Historic Casualty & Deceased Estates Casework, Services Personnel and Veterans Agency, Building 182, Imjin Barracks, Gloucester GL3 1HW This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it , 01452 712612 extension 6303.

4. The Battle of Fromelles began on 19 July 1916 and was the first major battle on the Western Front involving Australian troops. The 5th Australian Division suffered losses of 5,533 either killed, wounded, taken prisoner or missing; and the 61st British Division suffered 1,547 similar losses. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s (CWGC) records suggest that between 19 and 21 July 1916 the Australian dead at Fromelles amounted to 1,780, the British 503.

5. The group burial at Pheasant Wood was confirmed during a limited excavation in May 2008. It is now believed that 250-300 Australian and British soldiers were buried at this site by German forces after the battle.

6. A full archaeological excavation of the site is expected to be completed by the end of September 09. CWGC is overseeing the work on behalf of both the Australian and British Governments, who are sharing the cost of the excavation and the initial phase of the DNA investigations.

7. An onsite media facility is being planned for August 09. An operational note will be issued in due course.

8. For further information, contact Tom Bennett, Press Office, Ministry of Defence, 0207 218 5083, or Australian Defence Media Liaison, +61 (0)2 6265 3343 or +61 (0)408 498 664.