Friday 18 July 2008 by Peter Burness. 7 comments

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.



This is an amazing story, I can't believe no one checked the grave for such a long time, there is not much left but a closure is always important.

Roger Page

Interested in any information that becomes avilable?

Pauline Mitchell

The book, Fromelles by Patrick Lindsay provides an excellent background for this tragic Australian wartime story.

Grant Triffett

—Breaking faith with the Fromelles fallen— It is true that the tragedy of the missing of Fromelles continues to resonate more than 90 years after the skirmish. What is not generally known is not all of the fallen from the Battle of Fromelles are being unearthed, contrary to the impression left by the mainstream media when reporting the recovery operation which is currently being mounted at Pheasant Wood. The contract for DNA testing has now been finally awarded and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission has been organized to oversee the full archaeological investigation, but the United Kingdom and Australian Government still ignore the plea of Fromelles Discussion Group to include all the aggregated remains of the 5th Division AIF from this particular attack in the recovery project. Besides the 191 Australian Great War Diggers officially listed as being in the mass grave at Fromelles, there are supposed to be 1,131 unidentified bodies from this skirmish at VC Corner Military Cemetery as well as other cemeteries in the neighbourhing district.

Out of the 1,294 recorded on the VC Corner Australian Cemetery Memorial still said to be missing and unidentified, there are 410 at VC Corner Cemetery itself, 266 at Rue David Military Cemetery, 142 Ration Farm Military Cemetery, 120 at Auber's Ridge British Cemetery, 72 "Y" Farm Military Cemetery, 52 Le Trou Aid Post Cemetery, 27 Rue du Bois Military Cemetery, 22 Rue-Petillon Military Cemetery, 10 Anzac Cemetery at Sailly-sur-la-Lys and 10 Sailly-sur-la-Lys Canadian Cemetery.

 The only way to recognize Australia’s debt to these gallant soldiers is to include them all in the project to ensure they are properly honoured and memorialized.

Grant Triffett, Convenor/Administrator, Fromelles Discussion Group

Phil Gascoine

It is a very honourable thing to be exhuming these fine soldiers from the Great war and putting them in graves with ,(hopefully),their names on. However,seeing in the papers recently,world war one graves sprayed with graffiti and swastikas and the words "English pigs....take your rubbish home" and seeing grave stones smashed up by yobs, appalls me...our great Grandfathers,Australian and British,etc. fought and in many cases lost their lives,trying to help the French. I would dig them all up and bring them all home to rest in peace in their own native lands.....never to be dishonoured again ! It would not cost the Earth to do that and at least these fine men would be at home,in their own Countries,safe from the present ungrateful youth that takes for granted the sacrifices that these men made all those years ago that allows them to live safe,happy lives.

Rebecca Gansner

I have just returned from Fromelles and was very impressed by the standards the CWGC are providing in the construction and perfection of the new Phesant Wood Cemetery. Although access is not available to the cemetery at the moment, there is a place for you to leave wreaths and a book where you can leave a few lines. I was very moved to see the childrens paintings on the temporary shielding walls. If you have ever walked the fields of Flanders and the Somme and visited the noble resting places that are in the most excellent order, I'm sure you'd feel diferently about bringing all the men home. The cemeteries tell stories of their own. You can learn a great deal just from the cemetery. The dates of battles, the regiments that were there at different times, even where the cemeteries are...hospitals and clearing stations for example. The rest with their mates and I'm sure that they would be proud of that. I have never seen any vandalism on my many visits to hundreds of must be terrible to see that but I'm sure this is uncommen. The locals are grateful to the Allied forces. I've been to the most remote cemeteries, where you have to drive down dirt tracks and over potatoe fields....and there waiting for you are boys....and the cemetery is pristine. Grass mowen, edging straight, roses and flowers bobbing in the breeze. It's always a pleasure to visit a CWGC cemetery.

Rebecca Gansner

Sorry I accidently sent that last message before I could check it....what I meant to say was THEY rest with their mates. and their waiting for you are THE boys and men Also worth thinking about is that fact that many of these men never had the chance to become fathers, some were the end of the family line. Perhaps their parents never managed to visit their graves. When I go into a military cemetry, be it German, French, Belgian or Allied, I know I am in the presence of young men and women.