So they will not be forgotten

fromelle by Jess & Peter
Naming the dead:
[Via BBC News | Science/Nature | World Edition]

When the first chipped and battle-scarred bones were excavated from a muddy field in northern France last May, the story of the forgotten battle of Fromelles began to emerge.

The remains of 250 British and Australian soldiers had lain undiscovered for 93 years since falling on the Western Front.

Boots, purses, toothbrushes and other personal artefacts lay amongst the twisted skeletons at Pheasant Wood, offering partial clues about the men’s identities.

Richard Parker (inset) and Len Twamley, taken before his deployment
My grandmother died without knowing where Len was buried – this would bring proper closure to a family tragedy
Richard Parker, pictured inset

But it is the unique genetic codes within these remains that offer the best chance of putting names to each unknown soldier.

So far, more than 800 UK families who think they may have lost a relative at Fromelles have given DNA samples, but many will be disappointed.

Understanding the fates of these men who were lost to history is an amazing mixture of reverence, audacity and science. The unknown mass grave was really discovered because of the sheer relentlessness of an Australian schoolteacher. He spent 6 years working on this project – identifying the last resting spot where these soldiers were buried by the Germans.

He succeeded and convinced a limited excavation be done that discovered the bodies.

After the first soldier is reburied, all except one will be reinterred with full military honours during ceremonies to be held throughout February.

The final body will be reinterred on July 19, when a major commemorative event will be held at the cemetery’s official opening to mark the 94th anniversary of the Battle of Fromelles.

A team of 28 Australian and British army soldiers will take part in each of the reburials, which will feature an Australian digger playing the Last Post on a cornet originally used by the 31st Battalion on the Western Front and possibly at Fromelles.

The cornet was purchased from a collection on eBay.

Identifying the bodies will be a very daunting task. They are buried in an area that is not conducive for preserving DNA well. They do not have the ability to use a well represented set of DNA markers and there are so many graves to process.

They hope to identify maybe 100 bodies, out of 250, but think it is more likely to be much less than that. But the drive of the families involved is pretty amazing.

But a match can be made through cousins, nephews or nieces on the family line. So if a family is missing a paternal link, they can trace the soldier’s father, grandfather or brother, then locate their living relatives.

Dr Jones says one family went back seven generations on the maternal side then came forward five to find a suitable relative.

The Internet makes genealogy so much easier that it now becomes possible to go back 7 generations and then forward 5.

One reason this battle may hold such a connection to families, particularly Australian one, is that in 11 hours, over 5500 Australian soldiers were either dead, wounded or prisoners. It was one of the worst 24 hour periods in Australia’s military history.

I’m glad that the efforts of one Australian has resulted in the possible identification and proper burial of these men.

Technorati Tags: