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Fallen of Fromelles given resting place

PUBLISHED: 09:23 01 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:08 06 July 2010

IT went down in history as one of the most costly offensives of the first world war - claiming the lives of some 2,000 allied soldiers.

But the legacy of those who fought in the Battle of Fromelles will now finally begin to be laid to rest as a sombre ceremony to bury the men who lost their lives in the 1916 battle took place this weekend.

IT went down in history as one of the most costly offensives of the first world war - claiming the lives of some 2,000 allied soldiers.

But the legacy of those who fought in the Battle of Fromelles will now finally begin to be laid to rest as a sombre ceremony to bury the men who lost their lives in the 1916 battle took place this weekend.

Among the fallen, who have been excavated from six German-dug mass graves to be given proper burials, are thought to be 10 from Norfolk and Suffolk - although the precise identities of those who died has not yet been fully established.

The heroes are now being afforded a fitting final place of rest, in a new, purpose-built Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery, in France, the first Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery to be built for 50 years.

Admiral Sir Ian Garnett, vice-chairman of the commission, said: “This is a very significant day. The level of care and professionalism shown during the building of the cemetery will stand as a lasting and fitting tribute to the sacrifice of the 250 men who will soon lie within its walls.”

The disastrous Fromelles night attack took place on July 19, 1916, and was led by the Australian 5th Division on the Western Front, helped by the British. By the next morning more than 7,000 men were recorded as killed, wounded or missing after they met tough resistance from enemy lines.

Total British casualties were put at 503, while the Australians are thought to have lost 1,780.

Many of those killed in the engagement could not be accounted for at the time. Historians had long speculated that up to 400 of the missing dead were recovered by the Germans in the days following the attack and buried behind their lines.

Painstaking research led to the possible identification of several mass burial pits on the edge of Pheasant Wood near Fromelles. Following exploratory digs, the commission found substantial numbers of soldiers had been identified in the pits identified.

Among the 250 who were found and are to be reburied are: Pte George Edward Carver, Lowestoft; Sgt Robert Chaplin, Norwich; Cpt Aubrey Ewan Coulton, Swaffham; Pte William Knights, Beccles; Pte George Frank Lupson, Norfolk; L/Cpl George William Mantripp, South Lowestoft; L/Sgt Alan Robert Shreeve, Norwich; Pte Leonard Harry Willmott, Norfolk; Pte James Edwin Winterborn, South Lowestoft; L/Cpl Chester Harry Wright, Lowestoft.

Veterans minister Kevan Jones said: “It was the wish of both governments to give these brave soldiers a fitting place of rest, honouring the commitment shown to our fallen after the first world war. Today we have started that process.

“Work to try to identify them has already begun, and I urge again any families who think they may have a relative killed at the battle of Fromelles to come forward to assist with this.”

Captain Matthew Clarke, the officer in charge of the Fusiliers assisting with the burials, said: “It is a real honour for us to be taking part in this historic task, finally giving these soldiers, who sacrificed everything for our freedom, a fitting military burial.

“As we go about our solemn duty, our thoughts will be with all of our friends and colleagues injured or killed on operations, and all those still willingly defending the freedom and security of our country today.”

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