2010 20c Remembering the Lost Soldiers of Fromelles

May 23, 2010

2010 20c - The Lost Soldiers of Fromelles

The dramatic and tragic events of July 19th and 20th, 1915 on the Western Front in France around the small village of Fromelles have remained largely ignored in Australia until the last 10 years or so. One can only wonder how, in the late afternoon and evening of July 19th 1915 and the early hours of July 20th 1915 saw the single greatest loss of life in the Australian military in a single 24 hour period. During this period 5,533 Australians of the 5th AIF (Australian Imperial Forces) Division were killed, captured, or wounded along with 1,500 British of the supporting 61st Division. All of this happened in a largely pointless frontal attack by Australian and British forces against well entrenched German forces armed with modern machine guns and accurate and deadly artillery. Nearly 1300 of the Australian casualties remained 'known only to God', that is as un-identified bodies or missing entirely. To put the battle into perspective, more Australian soldiers were killed in 24 hours at Fromelles than in the Boer War, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War COMBINED. It truly was a tragic and awful 24 hours.

In 2002 a Greek born Australian, Lambis Englezos visited the existing Australian war cemetaries in the Fromelles area and upon seeing the 1299 names of those Australians who were named as missing in the Battle of Fromelles he became obsessed with the idea of finding out the fate of these valiant Australians. A long period of research and struggle ensued where Lambis and his supporters developed a theory that nearly 200 of the missing soldiers were in fact completely un-accounted for as the total number of unidentified Australian war graves in the area didn't account for all of the 1299 missing men. He theorised that the missing soldiers (and many of the missing British) had been buried in mass graves by the Germans around a small stand of trees next to the village of Fromelles and had remained un-discovered for nearly 100 years. Wanting an investigation into the site of the mass graves a long period of struggle with the Australian government and beauracracy ensued before finally in 2007 a non invasive survey of the area near the wood (known as Pheasant Wood) verified that mass graves with bodies in-situ were there. Exhumation of the graves commenced in 2009 and finally more than 250 bodies were recovered including 203 diggers. These bodies have been re-interred in new Australian war cemetary next to Fromelles and DNA samples have been taken in an effort to identify the dead. At the time of this entry a large number of the bodies have been positively identified based on comparison with DNA samples of descendants of those missing in the Battle. The sense of closure for surviving relatives is hard to imagine as a final resting place for uncles, fathers, great uncles and great grandfathers is finally known. If you want to learn more about the Battle of Fromelles take a look at the relating wikipedia entry.

In 2010 the Royal Australian Mint released the second "Australia Remembers" 20c coin (the first was the Australian War Nurses 20c) to remember the Lost Soldiers of Fromelles. A standard sized copper nickel 20c the obverse of the coin is the standard Ian Rank-Broadley portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. The reverse (by Vladimir Gottwald) shows the "Cobbers" memorial statue which is found in the V.C. Corner Memorial and Cemetery near Fromelles. This statue shows an Australian digger (SGT Simon Fraser) carrying a wounded mate (his 'cobber') back to Australian lines after the Battle of Fromelles. This scene was repeated many times in the days and nights after the Battle as diggers risked death to enter no-mans land to retrieve their wounded mates who lay all over the battlefield waiting for help. The coin was issued in a card showing the statue, remembrance poppies, and some information about the coin and battle.

On the 94th anniversary of the battle and the opening of the new Pleasant Wood Cemetary Australia Post also released this coin in a PNC.

... and I could not lift him on my back; but I managed to get him into an old trench and told him to lie quiet while I got a stretcher. Then another man ... sang out 'Don't forget me cobber'. I went in and got four volunteers with stretchers and we got both men in safely. SGT Simon Fraser, quoted in Charles Bean, The AIF in France, 1916, The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Vol 3, Sydney, 1929, p.441

Posted by mnemtsas at May 23, 2010 1:28 PM
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