Friday, 20 July 2012

A Day to Remember: Fromelles

On our recent trip overseas, Paul and I included a visit to Fromelles. That blog post is titled Respect and Sacrifice.
Part of the cemetery with the village church in the background
- a beautifully tended cemetery
Visiting Fromelles was eerie.  Low (foggy) clouds and a strong and frigid wind created a gloomy atmosphere.  We visited the cemetery at Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) where the comparatively few identified victims of this wasteful exercise in war had recently been laid to rest. This cemetery, just opposite the village church, contains the graves of 250 Australian and British soldiers whose remains were recovered from a number of mass graves in nearby Pheasant Wood. 

The Battle of Fromelles took place 96 years ago today, and 5533 Australian soldiers were killed, wounded or missing, along with about 1500 British.
One of the plaques outlining the Battle
This was a significant battle as it was the first serious engagement of the Australian forces in France, and the only one to achieve no success. Some of the ‘story’ of the battle, the discovery and the identification process was told on plaques at the cemetery, and it was scattered with poppies as our visit was only a few weeks after ANZAC Day.

A few kilometres away are the Cobber’s Memorial and VC corner. VC corner cemetery contains the graves of Australian soldiers who died in the attack but couldn’t be identified. The graves here are not marked but all names are recorded on a memorial overlooking the cemetery. This memorial commemorates over 1200 Australian casualties.
A uniform 'Rising Sun' badge that was recovered with Allan
Bennett. The Australian War Memorial cleaned it and encased
it in a presentation box to present to the family.
My 'new cousin' Peter sent me this photo.

For those who don’t know my family’s connection with Fromelles: my great grandfather’s cousin, Allan BENNETT (1885-1916) was one of the soldiers identified. I was contacted by a military researcher some years ago and helped to find the relations who provided the DNA. I now have ‘new’ cousins (in WA).
William Collier FRANCIS (1864-1946) was my great grandfather. His mother, my 2great grandmother was Anne / Anna COLLIER (1841-1924), and her sister was Fanny COLLIER (1846-1939). Anna and Fanny came to Australia as did at least three other of their siblings, Thomas, Jenkin, and Margery, and at least five of their first cousins, also Colliers.
Fanny married Henry Goulding BENNETT (1845-1934) and Allan was the eighth of their 11 children all born in Victoria. The family moved to Western Australia before 1900.
Allan Bennett's grave
I wonder whether the families maintained contact because I do know that on his return from the Boer War, William Francis disembarked in WA and spent a little time there before returning to Victoria. Maybe he visited his cousins.

I took many photos at the cemetery and the memorial so if other readers have a relation / ancestor involved, please contact me.
For a more in-depth account of the 1916 Battle of Fromelles visit
Commonwealth War Graves Commission website

We stayed at a small farm-stay B&B, Rosembois, in Fourne en Weppes, very close to the little village of Fromelles.  (Highly recommended if you should visit the area.)
The hostess remarked that the people of the region were very grateful to the Australian soldiers who fought against the Germans in the Great War. She added in her limited English, “Fromelles was important”.

a close up of the Cobber's Memorial
The Cobber's Memorial from the road, notice the bleak weather!
VC corner from the road
VC corner from inside the gate, the memorial at the back
contains the names of all the soldiers, some fading already.

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