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Another Digger – Bayonet Still Fixed

  • September 12th, 2008
  • Posted by Amelia Birnie


Another Australian World War I soldier has been uncovered by archaeologists excavating German trenches near St Yves in Wallonia, Belgium.

The discovery coincides with a similar event, from another theatre of war, the location of the body of Private David Fisher — a soldier killed in Vietnam.


No-Man’s Land Archaeology, an international group including forensic experts from Cranfield University, England, unearthed the soldier’s remains early last month.

Through piecing dates together, experts believe the unknown soldier was serving on the front line with the Australian 3rd Division.

The 3rd Division was known to have attacked the Germans in June 1917 as part of the Battle of Messines.

Forensic expert Peter Masters from Cranfield University said the remains of the soldier tell a significant story of one man’s involvement in a major piece of world history.

“We recovered his body using state-of-the-art techniques including geophysical surveying and forensic archaeology, enabling us to preserve as much as possible,” Mr Masters said.

The discovery of the soldier is of significant historical interest because it appears he was not formally buried.

Australian military historian Mat McLachlan, who was with the team that made the discovery, said that such burials meant any useful items the soldier was carrying would be removed for further use or souvenired by the enemy.

“However this soldier was found carrying his entire battle kit, down to medicines with full bottles of iodine; it appears he was covered with earth almost immediately after he fell,” Mr McLachlan said.

Even more curious was a German spiked leather helmet known as a pickelhauve, a highly prized battlefield memento, found in the soldier’s backpack.

Mr McLachlan said the presence of the helmet was particularly interesting because it was a type used by the Germans in an earlier part of the war and had been discontinued by the time of this battle.

“The soldier probably valued it so much as a souvenir and wanted to get it home, that he did not want to leave it in his billet in case it was stolen,” Mr McLachlan said.

The soldier’s body is said to show no signs of what killed him, although McLachlan said No-Man’s Land Archaeology had some ideas.

“He might have been killed by the percussion of a nearby shell and buried by the earth thrown by another one,” Mr McLachlan said.

“It is not really known how he was killed, but the soldier’s right hand was still clutching his 303 military rifle, with bayonet attached.”

Australia’s Defence Science and Personnel Minister, Warren Snowden, said all of the remains had been given to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the artefacts sent to the Warneton Museum in Belgium.

“All attempts will be made to identify the soldier either through his tag or DNA,” Mr Snowden said.

It is likely the remains will be buried at one of the existing Commonwealth War Graves Cemeteries in Belgium later this year.

The soldier’s discovery follows the identification of another Australian digger, Private George Stoney, only two months ago; (see EUAustralia, this date).

Private David Fisher of the Special Air Services Regiment (SASR) fell from a rope beneath a Royal Australian Air Force helicopter during a “hot extraction” of his patrol on 27 September 1969.

His body was not recovered and became part of an intense search in peace-time by Australian and Vietnamese authorities, and veterans of the war.

The following information is from the Ministry of Defence.

Planning is now under way to repatriate Private Fisher’s remains home to Australia.

Private Fisher is the fourth and last Australian Soldier to be located and his return will complete the recovery of all Australian Army personnel who were lost on operations and not recovered during the Vietnam War.

Lance Corporal Parker and Private Gillson were repatriated to Australia in June 2007 and Lance Corporal Gillespie in December 2007.

Two Royal Australian Air Force personnel, Flying Officer Michael Herbert and Pilot Officer Robert Carver remain unaccounted for from the Vietnam War.

Pictures: Dugout in German front line trenches, in Belgium; Pte. Fisher in Vietnam.


Defence Ministry – Australia, “Images of Private David Fisher”. 12.9.08;, (12.9.08).