The first of 250 unknown British and Australian soldiers whose bodies were buried by their Germans foes in mass graves in northern France during World War I was reburied on Saturday with full military honours.
The soldiers were killed in July 1916 during the Battle of Fromelles, generally considered a significant defeat for the Allies and described as “the worst 24 hours in Australia’s entire history.”
The Battle of Fromelles was fought at the same time as the better-known Battle of the Somme, which raged about 50 miles to the south.
At Fromelles, two divisions of Allied infantry had attacked a strongly fortified German position known as the Sugar Loaf.
The defenders knew the British and the Australians were coming; the terrain favored the Germans. As the British and the newly arrived Australians charged into battle, the Germans opened fire
An estimated 1,780 Australians and 503 British nationals were killed during the Germany victory and initially buried in mass graves. All told, 5,533 Australian soldiers and 1,500 British troops were killed, wounded or taken prisoner.
The unidentified bodies were discovered in mass grave sites in 2008 and experts have been working to find out who they are, but the identity of the first to be reburied remained unknown.
The remains were re-interred with British and Australian dignitaries in attendance at the military cemetery of Fromelles.
The British official said reburying the British and Australian soldiers who died in the 1916 Battle of Fromelles was part of an international effort to identify the fallen troops and give them a proper burial in individual coffins with their own headstones, The Times of London reported.
DNA testing is being done to identify as many of the soldiers’ remains as possible.
“It was the wish of both governments to give these brave soldiers a fitting place of rest, honoring the commitment shown to our fallen after the First World War,” British Veterans Minister Kevan Jones said, referring to Britain and Australia.
“Today we have started that process,” according to United Press International. “Work to try and identify them has already begun and I urge again any families who think they may have a relative killed at the Battle of Fromelles to come forward to assist with this.”
Saturday’s ceremony marked the first of the fallen soldiers to be buried with full military honors. The Times said Australian Veteran Affairs Minister Alan Griffin was on hand for the ceremony, along with surviving family members of those killed in the 1916 conflict.
The last reburial ceremony is to take place July 19, the 94th anniversary of the battle.
It is believed that one of the German soldiers involved in the battle was Adolf Hitler, then a 27-year-old corporal and a message runner in the 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment, according to Wikipedia.
Nearly a century after World War I, the bodies of more than 165,000 Commonwealth soldiers are still missing, according to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.