Final Fromelles soldier laid to rest
20 July 2010
The last of the 250 Australian and British soldiers has been buried with full military honours at a ceremony in France, 94 years after he fell at the Battle of Fromelles.
The Battle of Fromelles, on a 400-metre patch of French soil, was the first time Australian Imperial Forces fought on the western front. In a period of less than 24 hours 1900 young Australian men lost their lives; another 3100 were injured or never found.
Of the 250 men recovered from Pheasant Wood, 205 have been identified as Australians (96 by name), three are British and 42 are 'Known unto God' including the identity of the final soldier to be buried.
Among the guests in attendence was Australia's Governor-General, Quentin Bryce along with Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Ken Gillespie.
''A near century of questioning and not knowing … of loving hearts unrequited, generations of absence, lives extinguished without explanation, missing without proper account,'' the Governor-General said.
''Now, each and every one of them gently, expertly, reverently cradled and carried from where they were last thrust, side by said, already fallen, more than nine decades ago … to a new resting place. This place; a place of resolution and peace.''
Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Minister for Defence Personnel, Alan Griffin reflected on the importance of the occasion.
Mr Griffin said, "These men paid the ultimate sacrifice and today's ceremony has given families an opportunity to pay their last respects at a known grave".
"Ninety-six Australians have now been named through a combination of anthropological, archaeological, historical and DNA information and there is a very good chance that further soldiers will be identified if more families come forward to assist."
The purpose-built Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery was also opened in a fitting tribute to the Australian and British soldiers recovered last year. The new cemetery is the first full cemetery the Commonwealth War Graves Commission has constructed in more than 50 years.
Families of identified soldiers were invited to pay tribute to the fallen at their gravesides in a reflection service after the cemetery was opened. Among those present at the ceremony was 27-year-old Heath Stook from Perth, whose second cousin Raymond Bishop is among the dead.
"It happened almost a century ago and it's still a very meaningful thing for the family," Mr Stook explained.
"I think it's extremely important that it's happened because they were heroes, they died for their country, they did what they were told to and what was right, so they're finally getting the appreciation they deserve."