Nine more Australian soldiers from Battle of Fromelles identified

Minister for Defence Personnel Darren Chester today announced nine World War I Australian soldiers who fought in the Battle of Fromelles in France have formally been identified at the 2018 Fromelles Identification Board.

CAPTION: Two of the newly identified Australian WWI soldiers – Captain Kenneth Mortimer (left) and Private Henry Bell, both 29th Battalion, AIF.

These soldiers were originally recovered from unmarked mass graves adjacent to Pheasant Wood in France along with a further 250 Australian soldiers who fought and died in the 1916 Battle of Fromelles.

They are now buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery at Fromelles.

“This is a notable achievement for Australia, our Army and all those involved in the research, finding and identification process,” Mr Chester said.

“Importantly, the identification of these soldiers provides closure for some families with missing members lost during the battles of World War I.

“One hundred years later, Australia has not forgotten the service and sacrifice of these soldiers.”

A range of evidence collated by anthropologists, archaeologists and DNA specialists, along with artefacts and historical records was presented to the Fromelles Identification Board.

The board concluded there was sufficient evidence to identify the remains found as the soldiers listed below:

  • Captain Kenneth Malcolm MORTIMER, 29th Battalion
  • 2825 Corporal Alfred THOMPSON, 55th Battalion
  • 191 Private Henry BELL, 29th Battalion
  • 1218 Private William Edwin BOYCE, 32nd Battalion
  • 889 Private Henry GARDNER, 30th Battalion
  • 1011 Private Alexander McCULLOCH, 32nd Battalion
  • 314 Private Stanley Richard O’DONNELL, 29th Battalion
  • 3983 Private James Robert SMITH, 31st Battalion
  • 795 Private Claude YEO, 30th Battalion

 

By pure coincidence, two of the nine named today were reinterred side by side in anonymous graves at Fromelles.

Captain Kenneth Malcolm Mortimer was born in Levena West, Victoria, and was a graduate of the Royal Military College, Duntroon.

He served in Egypt and on the Western Front before he was killed in action at Fleurbaix, France, on 20 July 1916.

Private James Smith, born in Allora, Queensland, and employed as a labourer before volunteering to fight in the war, also served in Egypt and on the Western Front before being killed in the same action at Fleurbaix on 20 July.

These two men fought together and were both killed in action in the same battle, on the same day and in the same place.

They were recovered together, by personnel of the Fromelles Project team and were reinterred in unidentified graves, side by side, in the Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) War Cemetery.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission will erect new headstones with the details of the nine identified soldiers on 19 July 2018, during the annual commemoration ceremony at Fromelles.

“The identification of soldiers killed in battle has been made possible by the Australian Army’s Unrecovered War Casualties Fromelles Project team,” Mr Chester said.

“To date, the Fromelles Project has resulted in 159 Australian soldiers being identified, while 91 remain unidentified.”

Members of the public whose relatives fought in the Battle of Fromelles, have a grave listed as unknown and are known to have died on 19 or 20 July 1916 are encouraged to register with the Australian Army Unrecovered War Casualties unit. An online registration form can be completed here.

Further information about the identified soldiers can be found in their individual service records via the National Archives of Australia web site.

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Brian Hartigan

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