The tragedy of the missing at Fromelles resonates once more 90 years after the battle. In June 2008 a further search for bodies began. It was initiated by a Melbourne school-teacher, Lambis Englezos. He was one in a group who became increasingly convinced that there were Australian and British bodies that had been buried by the Germans in mass graves who had not been recovered and re-interred after the war. Such claims needed to be backed up by careful research and this took some years to complete. It was hard to imagine how a large number of casualties could have been missed during post-war searches. However, Englezos eventually compiled such a weight of evidence that an official investigation was launched.
It was known that the Germans had conducted mass burials of allied troops after the battle of Fromelles. They had been thorough, recording the names of those they buried and usually gathering their identity disc. Through international resources, including the Red Cross, many families eventually received advice that their soldier son, husband or brother had been killed and buried by the Germans. Although there could be no expectation that after the war these bodies would be identified, it was presumed that they had been recovered from the burial pits and placed in British Commonwealth war graves under headstones bearing no names. There are many such burials in the war cemeteries around Fromelles.
Arising from Englezos's research it became the Australian Army's task to investigate a series of burial pits at Pheasant's Wood close to Fromelles to see if bodies might still be there. Wartime aerial photographs revealed that a series of large pits had been dug there. The Germans records suggested that there could be at least 170 Australians and a greater number of British troops in them. Digging, by skilled archaeologists, commenced. Everyone involved was determined that the utmost dignity and respect be applied to the task. By the time the initial work was completed on Friday 13 June it had been clearly established that the pits did contain bodies.
The discovery of the burials so long after the events of 1916 aroused wide interest and once again brought the battle of Fromelles to the forefront of public attention. Experts will now gather to discuss what further steps should be taken and how these men will be commemorated.
The Australian Department of Defence website has information about the excavation work at Fromelles in May and June of 2008.
There is an Australian Department of Defence media release from the 31 July about the decision to
have the remains of the World War 1 soldiers - buried in mass graves near Fromelles in 1916 - exhumed and given individual burials with military honours.