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Bitter Memory

  • February 7th, 2008
  • Posted by EUEditor

fromelles.jpgA bitter memory has been revived with the announcement of controlled excavations on a site at Fromelles, in France, where lost Australians may be buried.

In the meantime preparations are made for 90th anniversary commemorations of Anzac Day, at Villers-Bretonneux.


The Australian government has announced that a British university group will dig in a part of the 1916 battleground that was surveyed last year.

In July 1916 newly arrived Australian troops were committed to a doomed frontal attack against strong German positions on the Western Front near Fromelles.

Intended as a feint to draw attention away from an offensive on the Somme, it came to be described in official accounts as a “complete failure”.

The Australian 5th Division took close to 50% casualties, 5533 men; a British division took nearly 1500 casualties.

This week, 5.2.08, the Australian Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, Warren Snowdon, said limited excavation work would take place in April, at a likely group burial site.

“It is believed that the remains of up to 400 Australian and British soldiers who fought in the battle of Fromelles during July 1916 were not recovered by battlefield clearance teams at the conclusion of World War One and may still be buried at the site,” he said.

“The limited excavation will be carried out by the Glasgow University Archaeological Division (GUARD), the same team who undertook a non-invasive survey of the site in May 2007 …

“The limited excavation work GUARD undertakes will determine, beyond doubt, the presence or otherwise of remains at the site as well as provide information on the quantity and condition of any remains.

“The work is being planned under the auspices of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission with approval of French authorities and the local land owner, and assistance is being sought from the British Government.”

Mr Snowdon commended the work of the Friends of the Fifteenth Brigade Association, a Melbourne group led by Mr Lambis Englezos, who first located the possible burial site.

“I also commend the cooperation of the French authorities which have been sensitive to Australian efforts to fully investigate the site,” he said.

The recovery of any remains that are found will be negotiated with the French and British authorities.

“VB” 1918

Ninetieth anniversary Anzac Day commemorations on 25.4.08 will be centred on the refurbished Australian World War 1 memorial at Villers-Bretonneux.

The small town — known among troops as “VB” — became the focus of a final enemy offensive in 1918, intended to drive a wedge between the British and French armies, and was the site of the Australians’ greatest victory.

The 4th and 5th Divisions, with soldiers from the British 8th and 18th Divisions, reclaimed and held the town, on Anzac Day – three years to the day after the landings at Gallipoli.

Again there were heavy casualties; 1200 Australians killed.


Australian War Memorial, “Australian Military Units: Battle of Fromelles”,, (7.2.08).

Embassy and Consulate General of France, Fact Sheet, The Somme: a must for visiting Australians,, (7.2.08).

Wikipedia, online encyclopaedia, Villers-Bretonneux,,
Battle of Fromelles,, (7.2.08).

Department of Defence (Australia), “Limited Excavation of Suspected World War One Burial Site Near Fromelles”, 5.2.08, 05/2008.


Men from the 53rd Battalion at Fromelles; all in the picture were killed or wounded there, wikipedia