At 19:00 CET today, a ceremony will be held at the Commission’s newest cemetery at Fromelles in northern France, to dedicate the newly erected headstones of 14 Australian soldiers who died 95 years ago, during the Battle of Fromelles.
This public event forms the latest chapter in the Fromelles story, which has seen the discovery of 250 Australian and British soldiers, who were killed on 19 July 1916.
Exactly one year ago, the last of those 250 soldiers was buried in a ceremony to dedicate Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery. Over the past 12 months, evidence to help identify more of those buried at Fromelles has been successfully gathered, enabling the Australian and British governments to name 14 more Australian soldiers in April 2011, adding to those 96 Australian soldiers already identified by name. This painstaking work has been possible by using a combination of DNA testing and the careful analysis of historical, archaeological and forensic information
Tonight’s ceremony will see family members of many of the 14 newly identified soldiers being given the chance to pay their respects to their loved ones. Also in attendance will be various dignitaries and the people of Fromelles, who have shown tremendous support over the past few years, to enable the project to reach such a successful conclusion
However, this is not the end of the Fromelles story, as any new evidence pertaining to any of those soldiers not yet identified will be examined at a yearly Board of Identification, which will be held once every year until 2014. More information can be found at http://www.fromelles.org (This text was taken directly from CWGC).
Want to know a bit more about the Attack at Fromelles? Well, today is your lucky day..
Fromelles – The worst 24 hours in Australia’s entire history
An attack in and around the villages of Fleurbaix and Fromelles was initially pencilled in as part of a widening of the Somme offensive. However, the successes on the Somme were not forthcoming and the relevance of an attack around Fromelles was dismissed by the Army’s High Command on July 16th. However, Lieutenant-General Sir Richard Haking (GOC XI Corps), the local commander of the area was still keen to press ahead with the operation, despite no clear objective or plan.
The rough idea, hastily modified from the original plan, was to stop the Germans moving troops from this sector, south to re-enforce the Somme area. This attack would also be the first to involve the Australians. Their 5th Division had landed in France just days before, and would be thrown in right at the deep end. Assisted by the British 61st Division.
The attack would centre around a salient – nick named ‘Sugar Loaf’ due to its size and shape. Sugar Loaf was relatively small but commanded all the high ground in the area and had unrestricted views on all sides. Sugar Loaf was held by the 6th Bavarian Reserve Division, and they had built a very solid and intricate defensive position. Taking the Loaf would not be easy, and would need some clever tactics, perhaps a surprise attack under darkness using a small number of elite troops.
After careful consideration, the clever chaps of the Army High Command decided that a huge artillery bombardment, followed by a full frontal mass infantry attack in broad daylight, would be the best way to go. The artillery bombardment would definitely smash the defenders to little pieces, and the infantry would be able to amble up the hill, cigars on the go, and take the positions.
Sound familiar? Unfortunately it seems that the lessons of July 1st were not fully heeded.
For seven odd hours before zero, the German lines were shelled to bits. The problem was, the maps that the British Officers had that showed the position of the German lines were out of date. The German had actually pulled back a few hundred yards to a new defensive line. Those shells, all 200,000 of them, fell on empty earth and reduced the landscape to a muddy bog, devoid of cover – which would prove disastrous.
After the bombardment the Australian and British troops advanced. Some elements of the Australian contingent actually made it to their first objective; however there were no Germans there, just mud and more mud. From their new positions the Germans made easy work of the attackers. With no cover, they didn’t stand a chance.
The British and Australian troops who advanced on the right flank of the attack didn’t even have the chance to reach their objective – they were literally cut to pieces by machine guns as they crossed No Man’s Land.
Later in the evening, the British asked the Australian 15th Brigade to join up with a renewed assault on the German lines at 9pm. However, this attack was cancelled, but someone forgot to tell the Australians, who advanced again, alone, and suffered terribly.
During a German counter attack the Australian forces were split into two, each side becoming increasingly isolated and vulnerable to complete encirclement. The order to retreat at daybreak was given, however by the time the retreat had begun; those Germans had set up even more machine gun posts and inflicted devastating casualties on the retreating Australian troops.
It was not a good introduction to battle for the Australians. After a little over 24 hours of fighting, they had suffered 5,533 casualties (killed, wounded or prisoners). The British had fared slightly better, but still, 1,547 casualties were not insignificant. Not one inch of ground had been one. It was a complete disaster.
The Australian War Memorial describes the battle as “the worst 24 hours in Australia’s entire history.”
For more information, why not visit these dedicated websites on the Attack at Fromelles.