First of Fromelles' Missing Diggers to be Identified

Some Wonderful news from Maj-Gen Mike O’Brien, the man responsible for the Pheasant Wood exhumation and reburials: the first wave of those Missing Diggers will be identified by Anzac Day.

The DNA testing of the Pheasant Wood remains has been far more successful than at first thought. In fact, I understand that all bar six of the remains have now yielded viable DNA.

Considering that around 70 percent of the Missing Diggers have had a descendant register with the Army and provide a DNA sample, this gives great hope for a substantial proportion of the Missing to be finally identified and buried under a marked headstone.

It’s a long-awaited vindication of the constant claims by Lambis Englezos and his supporters that, not only could the Missing Diggers (and Tommies) be found, but the majority of them could also be identified.

What a moving and memorable ceremony awaits those who make the journey to Fromelles on 19th July for the official commemoration of the new cemetery and the unveiling of the named headstones.

The Missing Diggers’ families have waited 94 years for this.

A Response to Neil McDonald

Neil McDonald wrote an opinion piece on Fromelles in the Sydney Morning Herald on February 5. Neil is, of course, entitled to his view that recovery of the Fromelles Missing “sanitises what was always a brutal and bloody business” and that it’s a pity that the battlefield burials on the Kokoda Track “could not have been identified and marked, then left to tell their own story”.

I think Neil is misguided in both cases. There are a number of practical reasons not to leave the Kokoda dead in their original graves: first, they were on private land; second, who would care for them (the admirable Commonwealth War Graves Commission could not be expected to constantly maintain graves scattered over hundreds of square kilometres); third how would loved ones, descendants and others pay their respects by visiting the isolated graves.

In the case of the Missing soldiers of Fromelles, to my knowledge the only descendant to see them as they were found was Tim Whitford, whose great great uncle Harry Willis lies amongst them. Tim is a former Australian Army tank commander with a deep understanding of the Australian Digger and his heritage.

Before he saw the Fromelles Missing in the pits, Tim was open-minded about leaving them where they lay. But not after he saw them:

“And that’s what changed things for me. If they were all laid out carefully, buried in groundsheets it may have been different but some of those men didn’t have that privilege. Some had been laid there with the utmost care but others had been thrown in there like yesterday’s fish and chips.

“In Pits 4 and 5 it is a scene of abject horror. Men have been thrown in on top of each other without any care or reverence. There are men lying in grotesque positions … if we leave them like that it is a travesty.”

The real point is that if we left the Fromelles Missing as they lay, we would not be able to identify any of them. Their descendants would, to all practical purposes, be in the same position they were when they received that chilling telegram telling them that their son, brother, husband, father, uncle or loved one was “missing presumed dead”.

By disinterring them, taking DNA samples and trying to identify them by matching with their descendants we can help ease 94 years of pain and silent suffering.

Like most of the loved ones and descendants of those lost in war, Tim Whitford’s family has waited for almost a century to find out the final resting place of their loved one. Tim’s great grandmother never recovered from the loss of her brother and asked after him on her deathbed. Like hundreds of others, Tim’s family seeks closure by having somewhere to visit and mourn.

We certainly won’t be able to identify all of the Missing Diggers of Fromelles. But I believe it’s our sacred duty to do everything we can to identify as many as possible. They were individuals – not numbers – and their mates would expect nothing less from us.

(I tried many times to post this response to Neil's article on the SMH site without success.)

Where's Lambis?

In the snow-blanketed killing fields of Fromelles they finally laid the first of The Missing to rest yesterday, almost 94 years after they fell. They did it with reverence and respect and ceremony. Only one thing was missing: the man who made it all possible.

While the politicians and the bureaucrats basked in the reflected glory of the moment in France’s chilled beauty, Lambis Englezos, the man who spent six years solving the mystery of the Missing soldiers of Fromelles, watched the ceremony on television at his home in Melbourne.

Without Lambis Englezos and his team of supporters the Fromelles Missing would still be languishing, jumbled together in the mass grave at Pheasant Wood, where they were buried by the Germans in July of 1916.

Without Lambis the bureaucrats would still be dumbly clinging to their claims that the experts could not have missed a grave that big and that as “an amateur”, “a crank”, he could not possibly be better informed than they were.

Without Lambis the thousands of loved ones of the Missing would still have no idea what happened to them.

Yet, somehow he has been cut out of the picture.

What a disgrace that, after denying his claims every step of the way, the bureaucrats could not find the grace and generosity of spirit to invite Lambis to be present to witness the culmination of all his tireless work