Diggers given their names back in Fromelles
Updated July 24, 2012 13:44:57
Nine more Australian soldiers who fell in the Battle of Fromelles in 1916 have been given their names back.
Like many of their 5,533 comrades who were killed or wounded in this battle, they signed up for the war as a chance to travel, to see the world.
They ended up in a mass grave in Pheasant Wood, northern France. They may have still been there, still anonymous, if it wasn’t for a good luck charm from Gippsland.
I met Tim Whitford a couple of years ago when the last of the 250 soldiers from the mass grave were reinterred at the Fromelles military cemetery.
It was his great uncle Harry, from the Victorian shire of Alberton, who provided a crucial signpost.
When Harry Willis enlisted, the Alberton Shire presented him with a tiny medallion. Tim Whitford told me:
He would’ve had it on him when he was fighting and it would have been such a great souvenir for a German soldier to take, and yet they didn’t and it fell on the ground … I can’t believe it.
Before the golden find, there was opposition to excavating the site. "They thought we were cranks," said Mr Whitford, referring to himself and Lambis Englezos, who were not qualified historians, but who felt in their guts that those soldiers lay beneath the field at Pheasant Wood.
Now, 96 years after they died in the bloodiest battle in Australia’s wartime history, 119 of them have their tombstones engraved with the most precious memento of all.