« Blonde Pickup | Main | CanonHV20 Fodder for Youtube »

WWI Aussie Diggers Found at Fromelles, France

mass grave site?
Extraordinary story coming out of France this week - historians have found what they think is the mass grave site of 400 British and Australian First World War troops that were mowed down by German machine guns in yet another bloody pointless waste of life perpetrated by the inept British Commanders of 1916. The Sunday Telegraph reports it thus -

"They made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, hurling themselves from the trenches before vanishing in a hail of German bullets so thick that it was described by one witness as a "crisscrossed lattice of death."

The truth behind this event, like a lot of the First World War campaigns, was that it was a fiasco that was covered up initially and reported as an important raid in which 140 German prisoners were taken - when in reality thousands of troops died in a pointless and needless exercise that was originally planned as a feint to draw German support away from the main battle at the Somme. In a word it was slaughter and the British and Australian troops were cannon fodder. The Australian War Museum has this to say about it -

The worst 24 hours in Australian history occurred 90 years ago at Fromelles. Not the worst in Australian military history, the worst 24 hours in Australia's entire history. The Australians suffered 5,533 casualties in one night. The Australian toll at Fromelles was equivalent to the total Australian casualties in the Boer War, Korean War and Vietnam War put together. It was a staggering disaster. And this catastrophic attack at Fromelles - advocated and orchestrated by a British corps commander - had no redeeming tactical justification whatsoever. It was, in the words of a senior participant, Brigadier General H.E. "Pompey" Elliott, a "tactical abortion". One-third of the Australian casualties at Fromelles were in Elliott's 15th Brigade.

The details of this complete and utter cack-handed British-led operation are to be found here - Australian War Museum. Read it and weep. The stupid Pommie bastards did it to us at Gallipoli, at Singapore and God-Knows-Where else - Alright you Australians chappies...fix bayonets and over the top...yes we know you're running straight into machine-gun fire but you'll just have to make the best of it - there's a good chap. Ever wonder why we love to thrash the Poms at any sport you can name? Its revenge innit - for what those bastards did to our Great Grandads. I'll give you "over the top" - howzat!".

So the Telegraph lead would be better written as They made a pointless sacrifice for the inept British Commanders.

The Telegraph goes on to say -

"The find is the biggest of its kind since the end of the Great War and may lead to the discovery of 399 soldiers who were killed but whose bodies were never found and the building of the first new British war cemetery since the Sixties.

Of the dead, 239 are thought to be from the British 61st Division and 160 from the Australian 5th Division.

The soldiers perished in an Allied attack at Fromelles, 10 miles from Lille, which was fought 91 years ago last week. The battle, in which Adolf Hitler, then a 27-year-old corporal in the Bavarian reserve infantry, is believed to have fought, was intended to divert German attention and troops away from the Battle of the Somme, the main offensive which was raging 50 miles to the south.

The attack on heavily fortified German positions on July 19/20, 1916 was, however, a disaster, leaving 5,500 Australian and 1,500 British troops dead or injured.

The missing 399 troops were known to be among the dead because their bodies were recovered by the Germans and their names and personal belongings passed to their families via the Red Cross. However, their final resting place remained a mystery, despite repeated attempts to locate them.

Now, however, after scouring German wartime archives in Munich and carrying out extensive surveys of the area around Fromelles using geophysics, radar, topographic surveys and metal detectors, historians from Glasgow University's Archaeology Centre for Battlefield Studies are confident they have found the "lost army".

"The German archives proved very illuminating and cast new light on the site. We now have an order from the commander of the Bavarian troops in the area that grave pits were to be dug to accommodate 400 Allied dead and our survey has identified exactly where these pits are. We think the bodies are still in there. There is nothing to suggest they were ever moved."

During the war, Fromelles formed part of the German front line and, with the villagers displaced, there was no one to record the site of the mass grave.

The historians have presented their findings to the House of Lords War Graves and Battlefield Heritage Group and the Australian government, which commissioned the search.

French authorities have been informed of the discovery and will decide whether to grant a piece of land nearby to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for the men to be reburied.

Witnesses likened the 15th Brigade's devastated trenches to butchers' premises: "If you had gathered the stock of a thousand butcher-shops, cut it into small pieces and strewn it about, it would give you a faint conception of the shambles those trenches were," wrote a 59th Battalion corporal, Hugh Knyvett.

More details on this totally pointless loss of life here - 1914-1918 where they list the Official Casualty Figures as 5th Australian Division suffered the loss of 178 officers and 5355 other ranks in the attack, including those killed, wounded and taken prisoner. 61st Division lost 79 officers and 1468 men, having attacked with around half as many effectives as the Australians on their left. Estimates of German losses place their casualties at between 1600 to 2000.

The Battle of the Somme was another British botch-up except for the success of the Aussie Diggers at Pozieres.

Melbourne journalist Lieutenant J. A. Raws, who, with his brother, was killed in the Somme battle, described the battle scene.

"... we lay down terror-stricken along a bank. The shelling was awful ... we eventually found our way to the right spot out in no-man's-land. Our leader was shot before we arrived and the strain had sent two other officers mad. I and another new officer took charge and dug the trench. We were shot at all the time... the wounded and killed had to be thrown to one side ... I refused to let any sound man help a wounded man; the sound had to dig ... we dug on and finished amid a tornado of bursting shells ... I was buried once and thrown down several times ... buried with dead and dying. The ground was covered bodies in all stages of decay and mutilation and I would, after struggling from the earth, pick body by me to try and lift him out with me and find him a decayed corpse ... I went up again the night and stayed up there. We were shelled to hell ceaselessly. X- went mad and disappeared... there remained nothing but a charred mass of debris with bricks, stones, girders and bodies pounded to nothing ... we are lousy, stinking, unshaven, sleepless ... I have one puttee, a man's helmet, another dead man's protect dead man's bayonet. My tunic rotten with other men's blood and partly spattered with a comrade's brains".

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (12)

I have just had the ultimate experience of visiting the WW1 battlefields in the Somme on a recent trip to Europe. I like many Australians had relations who fought in this bloody discrace of a War. We toured around Amiens and visited all the Austrlian AIF Battle sites. To say this was moving is an understatement!!!. I have also been to Gallipolli in 2003., however I found that the Somme experience a somewhat haunting,distrbing and actually very very sad!, To actuially walk the ground where this needless and bloody war wiped out a whole generation of Australians by the actions of inept British Generals brings one to tears. Much of the country side is still relatively untouched and this visit will remain with me until my demise. A very sad and sobering visit that all Australians should undertake in their lifetime..
November 13, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterTed Ball Victoria Australia
I never knew the Aussies fought in France. After reading this I can see why the British never mention it. They did the same with the Ulster Division at the Somme and we will never forget or forgive them for that.
September 29, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterdon Campbell
Don, in WWI from an Australian population of fewer than five million, 416,809 men enlisted, of which over 60,000 were killed and 156,000 wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner. Five divisions were deployed in France.
September 29, 2008 | Registered CommenterMalcolm Lambe
Al to often actions were attributed to the British Army with no regard to the Nationality of those involved except when it suited them to point a finger in reproach
September 30, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterdon Campbell
Too many times the inept British officers sent our boys into hell with no regard to the loss of Australian lives.
This has been the case in so many proven instances Anzac Cove comes to mind not to mention all the rest.
Thank goodness our prime minister during WW2 stood up to Churchill somewhat.
April 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBob
Will you Aussies stop hurling the mud at the British? Do you think only Australian troops died in the fighting? South Africans, Canadians, New Zealanders, English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish... the list goes on. Yes a majority of the high Command were British, but they didn't specifically set out to murder Australians! Everyone suffered! Thousands died on all sides in an appalling epoch in history, where there were heroes and villains amongst commanders on all sides. Stop towing the 'populist' line that all British commanders were toffy nosed imbeciles and do some proper reading and research. Then you'll see that it's not as black and white as it appears.
May 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRichard Lauder
@ Dick Breath above. Complete rubbish. We know full well who sent those boys to their certain death at Fromelles - you stupid Poms. Do your own research and you'll find exactly who was responsible for the carnage.

here - go back and read the link from the Australian war Museum. http://www.awm.gov.au/wartime/36/article.asp "And this catastrophic attack at Fromelles - advocated and orchestrated by a British corps commander - had no redeeming tactical justification whatsoever. It was, in the words of a senior participant, Brigadier General H.E. "Pompey" Elliott, a "tactical abortion".

There are many more articles and evidence online. I've researched it fully. And they all say the same thing - you Brits cocked it up and sent those men to certain death.

BTW a news report on French television tonight showed the Fromelles site will be further excavated shortly for the bodies of those soldiers. I might go and pay my respects.
May 5, 2009 | Registered CommenterMalcolm Lambe
Us 'bastard' Brits managed to get thousands of British soldiers killed as well! It was horrible and yes it was a British commander who planned it. These men died along with thousands of others in what I agree was a horrendous waste of life, but throwing the blame at all 58 million 'Brits' for a decision taken 93 years ago by several ill informed officers of the British Army is utter folly. Do you blame every German out there for Adolf Hitler? Of course not! I have personally payed my respects at numerous places around the Somme and at Ypres at South African, Scottish, English and Australian cemetary's and memorials.
Regardless of that, the issue here is not whether or not you or I am right, it is that 400 lads who never came home will now be remembered properly. And that is all that is important.
May 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRichard Lauder
Guys guys. Calm down. The unfortunate fact is it was the Germans who were to blame you dopey buggers. The poms didn't set out to murder innocent Australians and the figures show that our blooding at Galipoli was a relative cake walk in comparison the the carnage on the Western Front where we were relative late-comers.
The English bore the brunt of the casualties and lost more or less a complete generation of brave young lads and very brave officers (the casualty numbers amoung officers was far higher percentage wise than amoung the normal troops).
One thing that you can not accuse the poms of is shirking when it comes to putting men on the line in times of battle and thats why they were so successful. If you wanted to beat them you had to be willing to lose a hell of a lot of people yourself. Arguing the rights or wrongs of this I'll leave to you intellectuals.
July 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNeil Hurley
@ Neil, What is "brave" about losing 57,470 troops in one day - including 19,240 dead - like your beloved Brits did at the Somme under Haig? The Poms may not have "set out to murder innocent Australians" at Fromelles, but their ineptitude had that effect. Complete slaughter - complete loss of lives that served no purpose at all. Utter waste. That "intellectual" enough for you?
July 27, 2009 | Registered CommenterMalcolm Lambe
Well Folks, don't you think is is senseless to just throw mud ??. Yes, the British officers (some) were brainless in the art of warfare and Haig sits pretty high on that ladder. But, if you have, as i have, spent all your life reading and reserching in ww1 & ww11 you will find that Australian officers (some) were also brainless.
What you must remember is, ww1 was a whole new ball game in the "art" of warefare I.E. new weapons, new methods new "cannon", motor transport....the list goes on. Yes , it all had to be learned again at terriable cost in human / animal life. It is , i think, the nature of man...as the man said....they who fail to learn from the past are bound to make the same mistakes !! As an Australian i have respect for the British common people...let us not forget that for almost two years they stood alone against the might of Hitler....Those two years were vital and allowed the greater might of the United States to fully gear for war (it was the U.S. and Russia that saved our collective bums...remember that.....MUD THROWING GAINS NOTHING.
September 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDennis R. Yates.
@ Dennis

Some might say that rather than "allowed the greater might of the United States to fully gear for war" it allowed the United States to profiteer from the war. And no, I don't find it "senseless to just throw mud" as you put it. And quit SHOUTING while you're at it.

BTW if you have indeed spent your life "reserching" in ww1 & ww11(as you write it) you might learn how to spell "research". Likewise "warefare" and "terriable".
September 28, 2009 | Registered CommenterMalcolm Lambe

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.