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Thursday, 14 August 2003
Page: 18616

Mr QUICK (4:40 PM) —There are parts of France that are indelibly parts of Australia. On 19 July 1916 Australia was `blooded' on the Western Front. The Battle of Fromelles was a disaster. It was a feint designed to draw German troops away from the Somme. A series of poor command decisions and haste ensured the battle's failure. There were 5,533 casualties in less than a day's battle. My father, Robert Quick, a 19-year-old private in the 58th Battalion, was one of those casualties. The date 19.07.16 is heavily etched on gravestones, memorials and memories.

I have walked through the village of Fromelles to VC Corner Cemetery, which is wholly Australian and contains the remains of 410 soldiers. They were gathered after the armistice. There are no headstones. One of the poor command decisions was not to take up the German offer of a cease-fire and a truce so that the dead and wounded could be gathered. The anguish and tragedy of Fromelles was compounded.

On the etched honour roll of the VC Corner Cemetery are the 1,299 names of the missing. Of these, 410 are accounted for. Others—`an unknown soldier known unto God'—can be seen in local cemeteries. The others remain in the battlefield and elsewhere.

The battlefield is well defined. Aerial photographs, maps and geographic features, notably the layes—an irrigation ditch—provide points of reference. I raise this question in this House and with the people of Australia: out of respect, do we leave the missing where they are or do we recover their remains and bury them with full military honours?

In recent times bodies have been discovered. Each was buried at a memorial service and family members were present. I am certain they were thankful that the remains were discovered, laid to rest and properly marked. War Graves do a fantastic job in maintaining the many cemeteries in France, yet one wonders whether auspicing a search for the missing of Fromelles is beyond their brief. Close by, at VC Corner, is the Australian memorial site, which features Peter Corlett's wonderful work Cobbers. The statue depicts Sergeant Simon Fraser, of the 57th Battalion, carrying a 60th Battalion soldier. The wounded cobber is still clutching his slouch hat. Many heroic acts of recovery were undertaken that day. `Don't forget me, Cobber!'

Research down the years has concluded that there are lost mass graves. On health and compassionate grounds the Germans gathered the dead and buried them. Bavarian war records note that bodies were taken by train to Fournes—a village five kilometres from Fromelles—buried and marked. After the war, as part of the reclaiming process the markers were removed. This mass grave is now lost. Behind the lines at Pheasant Wood there are other mass graves. Handed-down local knowledge and modern technology could find these graves. I believe that they should at least be located and marked.

With the assistance of Martial Delebarre, the curator of the local museum and driving force of the local commemorative group, I walked in the battlefield and examined the evidence of the battle still found in the fields even to this day. I saw the spot where my father fell on that fateful day.

Approaches have been made to the minister to accept the pleas of the Friends of the 15th Brigade to address this issue. Minister, why can't you find the money to commission a visit by experts from Australia and France to ascertain what needs to be done to resolve the issue of the missing of Fromelles once and for all? The Battle of Fromelles was deliberately forgotten for decades because of the huge loss of life. Let us, out of respect for those missing, remember the pleas of their mates when they cried out, `Don't forget me, Cobber!'