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Fromelles fallen to find final resting place -

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Fromelles fallen to find final resting place

The World Today - Thursday, 23 April , 2009 12:34:00

Reporter: Philip Williams

PETER CAVE: It's taken more than nine decades but finally some of the diggers killed in the
disastrous Fromelles campaign on the Western Front in July of 1916 will get a proper burial.

After confirmation last year of the existence of a mass grave containing the remains of 400
Australian and British soldiers it was decided that an attempt to match DNA with surviving
relatives would allow a chance at least of a name on a headstone in a new cemetery.

Correspondent Philip Williams reports from Fromelles.

(Sound of church bells)

PHILIP WILLIAMS: Across the road from the village church the outline of a new war cemetery is
marked with tape and spray paint. A cross will dominate. The graves will fan out around it; 400 or
so Australian and British soldiers until recently lost to the soil. Veterans Affairs Minister Alan
Griffin says the whole recovery, identification and reburial process will take months.

ALAN GRIFFIN: It's quite a massive logistical exercise we're talking about. Although a lot of good
work has been done to narrow down the likely family identities if you like of many of the
Australians, it will take quite some time to work that process through and to ensure that we have
an element of accuracy.

The process that's been worked out is designed to maintain dignity and give an opportunity also for
families at the appropriate time to commemorate a relative that they've lost so long ago in a
manner where I think also many of these will be done together. And I have to say I suspect that the
circumstances are that that's what the soldiers would probably have wanted I suspect.

PHILIP WILLIAMS: Not everyone is happy about plans to rebury the remains next February whether
identification is complete or not. Some relatives want to be here for a burial but only after a
positive identification has been made.

That process may depend on DNA samples. It's uncertain if enough material will have survived. But
even without it, Fromelles project manager David Richardson says there are other means of naming
the dead.

DAVID RICHARDSON: Well we're looking at you know artefacts, so it could be badges, it could be
personal items that people are carrying on themselves. Often there are things in terms of dentition
so if people have particular teeth, you know that's often very significant. Often they compare the
data that the archaeologists use with photographs which existed at the time of individuals, and in
terms of stature, age. There's a lot of things that you can find out before you actually do DNA
testing.

PHILIP WILLIAMS: A few hundred metres from the new cemetery lies Pheasant Wood where the soldiers'
remains now lie and next to it, a mini-city of prefab buildings that's under construction that will
house the 27 scientists and technicians who will spend the next few months trying to answer
94-year-old questions.

Facilities manager Paul Backhouse.

PAUL BACKHOUSE: We'll be laying out each of the bodies, cleaning them up, photographing them,
recording them. And then they'll go through to a photographic lab where we'll be taking photographs
of the finds through to x-ray and to, there's a DNA laboratory on site as well. And then at a later
date next year we'll start moving the bodies into proper coffins and then they'll be transported
across to the new cemetery which you've seen this morning.

PHILIP WILLIAMS: Back at the new gravesite there is a pile of twisted metal and shell casings,
relics of a terrible conflict found in just one small part of the new cemetery - Allan Griffin.

ALAN GRIFFIN: That's a shell. You can see a shell casing, you can see that there. Yeah, see. You
can see the markings there, it's ah, obviously they're worse for wear.

PHILIP WILLIAMS: The horrific secrets of a shocking war have not all been given up but over the
next few months hopefully a few will have been prised from these sodden soils and may just yield a
little peace and resolution, at least for some.

This is Philip Williams in Fromelles, France, reporting for The World Today.