Three previously unknown WWI soldiers identified

The names of three unknown Australian soldiers, who died during some of the bloodiest fighting of World War 1, were announced by Army on Remembrance Day.

CAPTION: Australian Army personnel ready to take up the Australian flag from the coffin of Australian WWI soldiers being re-interred in Belgium. The soldiers were finally laid to rest after being thought missing for 90 years. Story by Corporal Jacob Joseph. Photo by Corporal Chris Moore.

Privates Walter Grace and Edwin Gray, of 8th Brigade, were killed fighting at Fromelles, France in 1916.

They are the latest Australian soldiers identified from mass graves of 250 Australian and British soldiers recovered in 2009.

Unrecovered War Casualties-Army case officer Major David Wilson said the soldiers were ordered to charge across open ground and into machine gun fire to take a heavily-fortified German position.

“8 Brigade had the shortest distance to cover and had the greatest success,“ Major Wilson said.

“Most of the casualties that got into the opposing lines were these soldiers.

“It was a well-defended location and the Germans were never kicked out.”

There were more than 5500 casualties from the battle, including almost 2000 killed in action and 400 captured.

After the battle, the Germans buried 250 bodies behind their lines.

The pits were discovered in 2009 and the remains disinterred and examined before being reburied at Pheasant Wood Cemetery in Fromelles.

About 94 soldiers were identified at the time they were reinterred.

“Since then, we’ve been identifying soldiers most years – we’re up to 168,” Major Wilson said.

“It’s getting harder to identify these soldiers but that doesn’t mean we stop.”

The third identified soldier was recovered in Belgium in 2006.

Private Thomas Gibbens, of the 29th Battalion, was one of five unknown Australian soldiers discovered in the Belgian town of Westhoek during road works in 2006.

The case went cold before being re-examined in recent years.

The soldiers became known as the Westhoek Five.

“They were killed together, buried on the battlefield together and disinterred together,” Major Wilson said.

With Private Gibbens’ formal identification, only one of the Westhoek Five remains unnamed and the case continues.





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