World War I dead to be recovered from mass graves in France

May 5th, 2009 - 5:27 pm ICT by ANI  

London, May 5 (ANI): Preparations are under way to recover hundreds of First World War British and Australian war dead from a mass grave in France. According to The Telegraph, up to 400 soldiers are thought to still lie in pits where they were buried by German forces in the days immediately after the Battle of Fromelles.

Archaeologists will begin a formal recovery of the bodies on behalf of the Australian and British governments tomorrow under the supervision of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC).

The painstaking operation in Pheasant Wood, which lies near the village of Fromelles around seven miles south of the French-Belgian border, is expected to last until the end of September.

The land was confirmed as a group burial site in May last year, after a limited excavation revealed the presence of pits hich had been undisturbed for more than 90 years.

The bodies of more than 165,000 Commonwealth soldiers killed on the Western Front during the First World War are still missing, according to the CWGC. Some of their remains have been found as land was ploughed or cleared for development, but there has never before been a discovery on this scale.

The hope is to use casualty records to assign identities to as many of the bodies as possible, with DNA being extracted from a small cross-section of the remains as they are exhumed.

Next year the bodies will be permanently laid to rest in individual graves at a new CWGC cemetery nearby - the first war cemetery the commission has built in almost 50 years.

The site of the pits, which are on private land, will be blessed before the formal recovery of the bodies begins. The operation has the support of the owner of the land, local authorities and the French Government.

The Battle of Fromelles began on July 19 1916 and was the first major battle on the Western Front that involved Australian troops.

Records suggest that between July 19 and 21 the Australian dead at Fromelles amounted to 1,780, and the British loss 503. Many of those killed could not be accounted for, prompting historians to speculate that up to 400 of the missing war dead were recovered by the Germans and buried behind their lines. (ANI)

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