Page last updated at 13:46 GMT, Monday, 20 April 2009 14:46 UK

DNA scheme to identify WWI dead

Crosses mark the graves of unknown soldiers killed in battle
More than 7,000 Allied serviceman died at Fromelles

Hundreds of unnamed soldiers from World War One could be identified using DNA tests after their bodies were found in several mass graves in northern France.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission, based in Berkshire, plans to exhume and identify about 400 soldiers killed at the Battle of Fromelles in July 1916.

About 1,700 British servicemen and more than 5,500 Australian soldiers lost their lives in the two-day battle.

The excavation project is due to begin next month.

The website www.fromelles.org will go live in the next few days while www.fromelles.net with details on the dead Australian soldiers is already active.

'Not at peace'

In the aftermath of the battle, the dead Allied soldiers were buried by their German counterparts. The graves were discovered in 2008.

Virtual image of the cemetary
A virtual image of the Pheasant Wood Military Cemetery at Fromelles.

Peter Francis of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission said: "Most of the identifying features were removed from the bodies by German troops, in order to give them information on the units they were fighting against."

The commission aims to identify the bodies and give them a military burial at a new site near Fromelles.

As part of the identification process, experts will take DNA samples from the bodies and try to find a family link with the help of the soldiers' relatives.

Mr Francis said: "When we speak to relatives, the phrase we keep encountering is that they are not at peace.

"With the website, we're hoping to put that right."



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