Archaeologists in 2007 announced there was 'compelling'
evidence that they had found the mass burial site of British and
Australian troops who were killed during the First World War.
They believed that the bodies of up to four hundred
soldiers remained in unmarked graves in northern France near the
site of the Battle of Fromelles. It was the largest discovery of
its kind to date, and the Australian, British, French, and German
authorities subsequently had to decide whether to proceed with a
mass exhumation of the soldiers' remains.
The Battle of Fromelles was an unmitigated disaster.
It was conceived as a ruse to divert German attention away from the
campaign on the Somme in July 1916. The British and Australians
launched an assault on heavily fortified positions in broad daylight.
Although they fought bravely they suffered heavy losses. The British
withdrew and the Australians had to fight their way back through the
A second assault was cancelled, though the
Australians were not told and they lost more men as a result. A
geophysical survey has located burial pits in which hundreds of
soldiers were buried after the battle.
Dr Tony Pollard, the director of the Centre for
Battlefield Archaeology at Glasgow University, visited the site. He
was able to confirm that, to his knowledge, this was the largest
unmarked First World War mass grave to be discovered in modern times.
There have been multiple graves in the past, but they have consisted
of perhaps twenty to thirty men. In this case the count was something
closer to four hundred, according to the available German records.
A metal detector survey had revealed a number of
artefacts, including metal objects with Australian Army insignia
on them. The only likely way they could have got there is on the
dead bodies of Australian soldiers. The bodies hadn't been disinterred
and buried elsewhere. There was strong evidence to support the belief
that the bodies were still buried in that field.