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WWI graves of UK, Australian soldiers excavated

 A member of the Oxford Archaeological team holds part of an Australian soldier's uniform at the Fromelles Memorial Park in Fromelles, northern France...
 A sculpture by Peter Corlett commissioned by the Office of Australian War Graves is seen at the Fromelles Memorial Park in Fromelles, northern France...
 Australians officers, left, and French veterans, rear right, are seen in Fomelles, northern France, during a ceremony Tuesday, May 5, 2009. Archaeolo...
 Australian Army officer Major General Mike O'Brien, head of the Australian Fromelles Project Group, center, shakes hand with a French veteran in Fome...
 French veterans, left, look at an excavator during a ceremony in Fomelles, northern France, Tuesday, May 5, 2009. Archaeologists have begun excavatin...

APTOPIX FRANCE WWI

A member of the Oxford Archaeological team holds part of an Australian soldier's uniform at the Fromelles Memorial Park in Fromelles, northern France...

FRANCE WWI

A sculpture by Peter Corlett commissioned by the Office of Australian War Graves is seen at the Fromelles Memorial Park in Fromelles, northern France...

FRANCE WWI GRAVES

Australians officers, left, and French veterans, rear right, are seen in Fomelles, northern France, during a ceremony Tuesday, May 5, 2009. Archaeolo...

FRANCE WWI GRAVES

Australian Army officer Major General Mike O'Brien, head of the Australian Fromelles Project Group, center, shakes hand with a French veteran in Fome...

FRANCE WWI GRAVES

French veterans, left, look at an excavator during a ceremony in Fomelles, northern France, Tuesday, May 5, 2009. Archaeologists have begun excavatin...

Excavators near a rural village in northern France began work Tuesday unearthing the remains of as many as 400 long-lost Australian and British soldiers who perished in World War I.
The remains, buried in a cluster of mass graves discovered in 2008, are to be individually reinterred in a cemetery being built near the site.
Australian, British and French dignitaries gathered in the village of Fromelles for a ceremony marking the launch of the project, which is expected to conclude in just over a year.
"Today marks the beginning of the journey to afford many of those killed at Fromelles with a fitting and dignified final place of rest," said Admiral Sir Ian Garnett, Vice Chairman of Australia's Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which is charged with overseeing the excavation.
An Australian amateur historian discovered the graves _ which contain the largest group of Australian remains from World War I ever found _ in a muddy field on the edge of a small wood in 2008, prompting an investigation by the Australian government.
Australia has since commissioned the construction of the nation's first war cemetery in more than 50 years near the site and dispatched a team of archeologists to exhume and attempt to identify the remains.
"This site is part of our national story," said Warren Snowdon, Australian Minister for Defence Science and Personnel. "It filled a gap in our history."
The remains appear to date from a single, famously ferocious night of fighting more than 90 years ago. Late on July 19, 1916, Australian forces launched the battle of Fromelles, the first Australian combat operation on the Western Front.
The battle has since been regarded as "the worst wartime tragedy in Australian history," Snowdon said.
More than 5,500 Australians were killed, wounded or went missing at Fromelles in under 24 hours, along with more than 1,500 British, cut down by German machine guns and artillery. German troops buried them afterwards, Australian investigators say.
More than 23,000 Australian soldiers' bodies were never recovered for burial from World War I, according to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
"To understand that you're standing near the site where these fallen heroes are buried," said Snowdon, who visited Fromelles last year, "was extremely moving."
Since the discovery of the site, about 400 people from Britain and Australia have traveled to Fromelles to pay their respects, said Commonwealth War Graves Commission spokesman Peter Francis.
"It was over 90 years ago, but the wounds still run deep," he said.
The discovery of the Fromelles site coincides with a burgeoning popular interest in Australian history, Snowdon, the Australian minister, added.
"In Australia, it's got a lot of public support and drive," he said of the Fromelles excavation. "It really is part of our national history, of who we are."


Updated : 2021-02-26 11:39 GMT+08:00