Page last updated at 16:10 GMT, Saturday, 30 January 2010

WWI war dead reburied in special service

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The first of the soldiers is reburied with full military honours

The first of 250 British and Australian soldiers whose remains were recovered from a World War I battlefield in northern France has been reburied.

The unidentified soldier, who died in the 1916 Battle of Fromelles, was reburied with full military honours in a special service near the site.

It is the first new cemetery built for World War I or II soldiers in 50 years.

The bodies, which were buried by German forces, were excavated from six mass graves in 2008.

The cemetery, which has been built by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, is currently only 70% complete but due to be finished by July.

The remainder of the military burials there will take place three times a week over the next month, with approximately 30 burials every day.

Private John Smith's remains were were recovered from the mass grave in Fromelles

Heavy losses

UK Veterans Minister Kevan Jones and his Australian counterpart Veteran Affairs Minister Alan Griffin attended the one-hour service in the village of Fromelles on Saturday with families of fallen soldiers.

Mr Jones said both governments wanted to give the "brave soldiers" a "fitting place of rest" which "honoured the commitment" to fallen soldiers after World War I.

He urged families who thought they might have had a relative killed during the battle to come forward to assist the identification process.

The battle, on 19 July 1916, was the first major one on the Western Front involving Australian troops.

In total, the 61st British Division suffered losses of 1,547 personnel, who were either killed, wounded, taken prisoner or missing.

The 5th Australian Division suffered 5,533 similar losses.

Headstones

The four-month excavation was carried out by Oxford Archaeology.

DNA samples were taken from each soldier and specialists in the UK have attempted to extract DNA strands to help with the identification process.

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Every soldier recovered will be reburied with an unnamed headstone in the new Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery, by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

In March, an identification board will consider historical, anthropological, archaeological and DNA evidence to try to identify as many soldiers as possible.

If the soldiers can be identified their relatives will be able to add a personalised inscription on the headstone at a later date.

Tony Pollard, who was in the Glasgow University team which uncovered the bodies, said the burial made him "shake with emotion".

"It was a very brutal battle and many of these men died in the German lines and were left to be buried by the Germans.

"When I first laid eyes on these men in the ground I became very determined that they should see a burial such as this," he said.

A ceremony to bury the last of the 250 soldiers and mark the 94th anniversary of the battle is expected to take place on 19 July 2010.

Site of battlefield and new cemetary



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SEE ALSO
The lost soldiers of Fromelles
29 Jan 10 |  Magazine
Fromelles soldiers to be reburied
29 Jan 10 |  Scotland
Visiting the grave in Fromelles
21 Aug 09 |  History
Relative's hope over war grave
08 May 09 |  Scotland Video and Audio

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