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.
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.”