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The Lost Soldiers of the Battle of Fromelles, July 19-20th th 1916 Professor Margaret Cox PhD President – Inforce Foundation.

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Presentation on theme: "The Lost Soldiers of the Battle of Fromelles, July 19-20th th 1916 Professor Margaret Cox PhD President – Inforce Foundation."— Presentation transcript:

1 The Lost Soldiers of the Battle of Fromelles, July 19-20th th 1916 Professor Margaret Cox PhD President – Inforce Foundation

2 Senior Scientific Advisor to the Australian and British Governments. Contracted by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to advise on all matters relating to archaeology, anthropology and identification. To recommend other specialists as necessary. Acknowledgements Ministry of Defence, UK Defence Defence Department, Australia Commonwealth War Graves Commission, UK Oxford Archaeology The Fromelles Project 2008-14 My Role:

3 The Battle of Fromelles 19 th to 20th July 1916 Fromelles is c16km south of Lille. The Battle involved the 5 th Australians & 61 st British, against the 16th, 17th & 21 st Bavarian infantry along a 3.7km front focussing on Sugar Loaf. It aimed to draw German troops away from the Somme offensive, but by July 1916 this was no longer necessary.

4 ‘Lions Led by Donkeys’  While this view has been largely changed for the latter part of WWI, for Fromelles it is apt.  Despite clear signs that the battle would be a massacre Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig sanctioned Lieutenant Sir Richard Haking’s plan and it went ahead.  The Germans had been bunkered in on the higher ground of Aubers Ridge for months and could see everything the Allied Forces did in preparation.  Our troops were mowed down (in part by friendly fire) and nothing was gained.  Approximately 8,000 men were killed and 1,400 are still unaccounted for.  A battle near this spot a year before had the same outcome.

5 The worst losses ever for the Australian Army  The 5th Australian Division lost 5,533 men, whilst the 61st British Division suffered 1,547 fatalities. German casualties were approximately 1,000.

6 Background to the Project Research by Mr Lambis Englesos built a convincing case suggesting that the missing soldiers from Fromelles were buried near Pheasant Wood. References in Red Cross records to 1600 Commonwealth soldiers being buried by Germans. Col von Braun, commander of Bavarian Infantry Regiment 21, ordered his men to prepare mass graves for 400 British soldiers. Aerial imagery of disturbed ground near the wood and references to a railway track running in the direction of the wood from the battle site.


8 Commonwealth soldiers‘ bodies lying near or over the German lines were buried by the Germans and transported to graves by railway Note that most of the dead soldiers have no boots on their feet

9 Pheasant Wood, Fromelles Grave site New CWGC cemetery site VC Corner Cemetery and memorial 

10 Official response:  A series of test pits and trenches were dug across the grave. Results suggested that 200 to 300 soldiers were present in five of the eight graves close to Pheasant Wood. The Fromelles Management Board was subsequently formed, comprising representatives of the Australian and UK governments. In response to this research, plus public interest, the Australian Government commissioned a geophysical survey in 2007, and in 2008 an archaeological evaluation into a series of suspected mass graves at Pheasant Wood, Fromelles. This was undertaken by GUARD.

11 Aims of the Fromelles Project:  To safely, scientifically and respectfully excavate the eight features alongside Pheasant Wood To scientifically record and recover all of the human remains from the graves To record and recover all associated artefacts whether military or personal in nature To fully analyse the soldiers’ mortal remains to attempt to determine their identity and the army for which they fought To fully analyse all artefacts recovered with the soldiers to help to determine their identity and army To rebury the soldiers in marked graves in a new purpose built cemetery in Fromelles Village in 2010

12 Methods deployed Archaeological excavation, recording and recovery using forensic principles. Site to be managed as a crime scene re issues of chain of custody and contamination Full anthropological analysis including radiography DNA analysis of bone and teeth from each individual Tracing families of missing soldiers through the UK JCCC and the Australian Army Where possible, taking DNA samples from appropriate relatives of the families of the c.1600 missing soldiers Asking families for photographs and other information that may help us establish an identity Collating all archaeological, anthropological, historical, family and genetic information to attempt to identify the soldiers.

13 Commissioning and timescales The archaeological and anthropological work (subject to competitive tender) was undertaken by Oxford Archaeology from May to October 2009 A concurrent programme of DNA analysis was carried out by LGC Forensics (UK), this was initially complete by March 2010 Cemetery construction was from June to December 2009, horticultural work in Spring 2010, and burial of the soldiers (except one) took place in February 2010 The first identification process took place from January to May 2010 The formal opening, final burial and blessing of the cemetery was on July 19 th 2010 Work will continue until 2014 with annual ID commissions Total cost £5m - shared between the two governments.

14 The Archaeology Clay substrate - waterlogged environment; area prone to very heavy rainfall all year around so specialist engineering and drainage solutions sought. Standards and Protocols Based on those developed by the Inforce Foundation which are internationally accepted as being the highest possible standards. Published in 2008: The Scientific Investigation of Mass Graves. CUP. By: Cox, M., Flavel, A., Hanson. I., Laver, J. and Wessling, R.

15 Excavation was within a very large tent – graves machined to 20cm above deposits, then hand dug. Evaluation trenches excavated first. Graves pedestalled within excavated areas, perimeter trenches and sumps used to help remove water.

16 The graves were excavated by a team of highly experienced forensic archaeologists, anthropologists, surveyors, photographers, scene of crime officers and logistics and health and safety managers (including EOD/UXO).

17 Results of the 17 week excavation: Six of the graves contained human remains with associated finds assemblages Five graves had between 44 and 52 soldiers in each and the sixth had three. The soldiers had been carefully placed lying head to feet across the 10 X 2 yard graves in two layers separated by soil and lime Two graves appeared never to have been used as such The remains of 250 soldiers were recovered – another c.1400 remain missing 6,200 artefacts were recovered – all subject to analysis, recording and short term conservation.

18 Initial examination and recording of both human remains and artefacts was in the field

19 Military artefacts: Belt buckle – shape important Right: corroded Rising Sun badge

20 Collecting DNA samples 1.Pilot study established survival and condition of the DNA and the best bones or teeth to use 2.DNA samples of teeth and bone from each individual were taken in the grave using forensic protocols and immediately transferred to a fridge or freezer in the main mortuary complex using strict chain of custody protocols.

21 Site layout DNA – sampling…………….. Human remains

22 Work within the DNA protection zone Scene of Crime Officer and Grave Supervisor

23 The Anthropology - State of the art temporary mortuary complex constructed and equipped for this project

24 Cleaning and sorting human remains Note - no gloves or masks had to be worn in the temporary mortuary for DNA purposes as samples were removed for this on site.

25 Radiography – digital x-rays used for human remains and artefacts following strict scene of crime protocols

26 The anthropology laboratory

27 Skeletons examined, photographed, analysed and recorded

28 Dentures and dental work

29  Coin purse (left), pen nib, penknife and train ticket

30 Personal items can assist with identification

31 ID tags and other medallions

32 2. Data Analysis Team Data Collation Provisional identification level Data Analysis 3. Joint Identification Board Review recommendation Determine identity 4. Notification NGOs e.g. ICRC Public & Media Government Agencies First Families of the Missing Other nations The Buried Soldiers Post-mortem data including DNA. The Missing Ante mortem data for the Missing from family records, historical and military sources. The Families DNA profiles for some families of the Missing. 1. Data Sets  The Identification Process (ID):  Collect and analyse each relevant data type  Collate and analyse all data sets for each soldiers’ (archaeology, anthropology, DNA, historical data)  Examine this with ante mortem data from missing soldiers and the DNA from family donors  Recommend an ID level to the JIB: (i) ID to name, (ii) ID to army, (iii) known unto God

33 DNA – Crucial for positive identifications  In material of this age, mitochondrial DNA or Y-STR analyses only  Pilot study undertaken to assess if the DNA survived in suitable quantities and quality - e.g. all base pairs for Y-STR  Prevention of contamination is crucial during recovery, storage and analysis – elimination database established  Appropriate storage of samples is crucial as is chain of custody through the process  DNA samples from living male and/or female relations of the missing soldiers are crucial:  Soldier’s family must still survive  Appropriate relatives must exist - ie have to be either direct male descendants from the soldier or his brothers’ or uncles’, or direct female descendants from his sisters’ or maternal aunts’  Have to be traced and the relationship verified via genealogical research  Must be prepared to donate DNA  Soldier must not be adopted or illegitimate as this is not recorded from this period – such soldiers cannot be identified to their ‘families’ only their genetic families which raises ethical issues  Single or combined probability values must be high enough to be convincing, and fit in with other data types, as IDs must be ‘significantly more likely than not’.

34 Y Chromosomal Paternal Line Mitochondrial Maternal Line

35 Our work has (so far) led to 119 men like these having their identity restored

36  We are still attempting to name the remainder but cannot do this unless relevant families of missing soldiers exist, come forward and donate DNA.  Work will continue until 2014  We have to-date identified 119 of the 250 men recovered from Pheasant Wood.  219 have been identified as having fought for the Australian Army (119 by name), two for the British army and 29 remain ‘Known unto God’.

37 End here unless time permits

38 Cemetery construction June 2009

39 January 2010 – burial of 249 soldiers

40 Formal opening of the new cemetery – July 19 th 2010

41 Lest we forget…..

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