Remains of WWI soldiers found in French mass grave

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Soldiers of the Australian 53rd Battalion who were involved in the Battle of Fromelles

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The remains of 170 Australian troops who died in the Battle of Fromelles have been found in a mass grave outside of the town of Fromelles, France. A dig is underway to recover the remains and identify the soldiers. It is slated to take two weeks.

The graves contain a total of around 400 British and Australian troops. Discussion on what to do with the British remains is still ongoing.

Early ground studies raised the possibility that unexploded ordnance could be buried at the site, prompting the use of metal detectors to probe for potential hazards. So far, only metal studs, buttons and belt buckles have been found.

Tim Whitford, who is overseeing the dig, said "If the blokes are recovered we'd like to see every effort made to see them identified and I would like to see them given a dignified military funeral. Those are honours they have deserved for over 90 years."

Fought during July 19-20, 1916, the Battle of Fromelles was a complete disaster for the Allies, with the Germans achieving a decisive victory and the Australians sustaining over 5,000 casualties in less than a day. Following the battle, the Germans dug eight 40-meter long pits to bury the dead Allied soldiers. Five of the eight pits are thought to contain Australian soldiers, while the other three appear to contain battlefield debris.


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