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Australian soldiers identified in Fromelles

©Morgane Hannappe

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Posted on 28 July 2023

In 2009, the remains of 250 Commonwealth soldiers were recovered from a mass grave near Pheasant Wood in Fromelles, buried after the Battle of Fromelles in 1916. DNA analysis has enabled the majority of these men to be identified, with five more Australian soldiers named in April.

 

 

 

 

 

The attack on Fromelles on 19 July 1916 was the first major battle fought by Australian troops on the Western Front. The attack, meant to serve as a ploy to hold back German reserves from the Somme where the primary Allied offensive had commenced on 1 July, failed in its objectives and tragically caused catastrophic losses for the Australian troops. Nearly 5,500 Australian and 1,500 British soldiers were casualties, making this battle ‘Australia’s worst 24 hours‘.

 

Men of the 53rd Battalion in a trench in their front line a few minutes before the launching of the attack in the Battle of Fromelles. ©AWM H16396
View of the concrete blockhouses in the German third line on the Fromelles-Aubers Ridge, taken on 11 November 1918. It was towards these positions that the 14th Australian Infantry Brigade attacked in the Battle of Fromelles. ©AWM E03970

After this defeat, the Germans buried the remains of 250 Commonwealth soldiers in a mass grave near Pheasant Wood, where they remained unfound for the next 93 years.

 

Since the discovery of the burials in 2009, thorough archaeological digs and DNA analysis have enabled the Australian Army’s Unrecovered War Casualties Unit to identify 173 Australian soldiers. Out of the 250 soldiers, 225 are Australian and two are British. The nationality of the other 23 Commonwealth soldiers is not known. The latest identifications date from last April:

– Sergeant Oscar Eric Baumann of the 32nd Battalion Australian Imperial Force (AIF) (age 20).

– Corporal William John Stephen of the 55th Battalion AIF (age 28).

– Private Richard James McGuarr of the 32nd Battalion AIF (age 27).

– Private Alexander Russell Robert Page of the 32nd Battalion AIF (age 28).

– Private Maurice James Claxton of the 32nd Battalion AIF (age 24).

 

One of the five soldiers recently identified at Fromelles, Sergeant Oscar Eric Baumann. ©AWM H06303
The graves of Private Richard James McGuarr (left) and Sergeant Oscar Eric Baumann (right) being unveiled during the service. ©Morgane Hannappe
©Australian Army

During the commemorative service of the 107th anniversary of the Battle of Fromelles, which was held on 19 July 2023, the headstones of these five men were rededicated along with the headstones of Private Walter Allen Grace of the 31st AIF Battalion and Private Edwin Charles Gray of the 32nd AIF Battalion, who were identified on 11 November 2022.

The commemoration took place in the presence of descendants of these men, many of whom had travelled from Australia, and the Australian Ambassador to France, her Excellency Mrs Gillian Bird. ©Australian Army
©Morgane Hannappe

The Museum of the Battle of Fromelles tells the story of the Battle of Fromelles and how the identification process of the men buried in Pheasant Wood Cemetery has been conducted and how the research continues

The Museum of the Battle of Fromelles stands adjacent to the Fromelles Pheasant Wood Military Cemetery, where the 250 soldiers recovered in 2009 are buried today. ©Vincent Lecigne

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