Lost graves of World War I heroes are discovered

Lorna MarshTwelve Norfolk and Suffolk men are among hundreds of first world war soldiers set finally to get a hero's burial after work started yesterday to recover their bodies from a mass grave.Lorna Marsh

Twelve Norfolk and Suffolk men are among hundreds of first world war soldiers set finally to get a hero's burial after work started yesterday to recover their bodies from a mass grave.

And the relatives of the men killed in the bungled Battle of Fromelles in northern France, and buried in a series of pits more than 90 years ago, were urged to come forward so that full identification can take place.

Among them are six soldiers from Norfolk and six from Beccles and Lowestoft.

Details from the official records are scant but they do show that two of those soldiers were just 19 when they were killed, one was an only son and another left not only his father behind but also a wife. There were also cases of young soldiers living on the same road as one another.

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The average age of the 12 was less than 23 and the oldest soldier was 30.

Experts hope to recover the bodies of up to 400 British and Australian soldiers from the former battlefields so they can be laid to rest with full military honours.

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It is the biggest non-genocide mass grave in existence and forensic scientists believe it will take five months painstakingly to remove the bodies so each one can be identified using DNA samples which can be matched with those from living relatives.

Archaeologists yesterday started to recover the bodies on behalf of the soldiers' governments, supervised by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) which has published the names of some of the soldiers believed to be in the grave.

Admiral Sir Ian Garnett, vice chairman of the CWGC, said: 'This marks the beginning of the journey to afford many of those killed at Fromelles with a fitting and dignified final place of rest.'

Defence minister Quentin Davies said: 'The ceremony marks the start of our programme to see these brave soldiers laid to rest with the honour and respect they deserve.'

The excavations, which are taking place in Pheasant Wood, near the tiny village of Fromelles, around seven miles south of the French-Belgian border, are expected to continue until September.

By the end of the project in 2010 all bodies found will be permanently laid to rest in individual graves at a new CWGC site at Fromelles, the first to be constructed in 50 years.

t The lists of names of UK and Australian soldiers who are thought might be recovered has been published, and families who believe their relatives may have lost their lives at Fromelles are urged to check the lists on www.cwgc.org/fromelles.

t Members of the public who believe they may be related to British soldiers buried at Fromelles, should contact Historic Casualty Casework, Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre, Service Personnel and Veterans Agency, Imjin Barracks, Gloucester GL3 1HW, telephone 01452 712 612 extension 6303 or 7330 or email SPVA-JCCC-fromelles-GroupMailbox@spva.mod.uk.

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