Over 2000 Australians and French gathered on Tuesday to mark the anniversary of the World War 1 battle desribed by the Australian War Memorial as “the worst 24 hours in Australia’s entire history”.
The Battle of Fromelles, which occured near the tiny French village over 19-20 July 1916 on the Western Front, witnessed over 5,000 Australian casualties including 1,917 dead, after they encountered heavy resistance and were mowed down by machine gun fire as they assaulted the German positions. It was all over within 24 hours and amounted to zero tactical gain for the Australians.
To put the tragedy into perspective, almost as many as a quarter of the Australian lives lost in the eight months of the Galipolli campaign were lost in less than 24hrs on the farmlands around Fromelles during the doomed assault.
In a moving ceremony of rememberence attended by decendents of the fallen, dignitaries from Australia and France and local residents (some of whom fly Australian flags from their yards and shops all year round as a mark of respect for the lives lost in the name of their village) Australia’s Veterans’ Affairs Minister Dan Tehan read the words of WW1 Australian correspondent Charles Bean.
“Fromelles became the place where we first realised the full horror of industrialised warfare,” Tehan recited.
A mass grave of 250 soldiers, mostly Australian, was discovered in 2008 at Pheasent Wood, just outside the village, where there is now a cemetary and where this week’s the ceremony took place. The work to name all the soldiers whose bodies were discovered still goes on, using DNA. During the ceremony, six new headstones were unveiled for men who have recently been identified.
“The work to do so is one we as a country owe these men, their families and their descendants. It is our duty to honour their duty,” Tehan said.
IMAGE: An Australian soldier unveils a headstone at the Fromelles WWI Australian Cemetary on July 19, 2016 in Fromelles, during the commemoration of the 100 year anniversary of WWI Battle of Fromelles. WWI’s 1916 Battle of Fromelle, a subsidiary to the Battle of the Somme, saw the loss of over 5000 Australian soldiers, commemorates its 100 year anniversary on July 19-20. (DENIS CHARLET/AFP/Getty Images)