WWI soldier found in mass grave reburied in France

WWI soldier found in mass grave reburied in France
# 20 July 2010 01:58 (UTC +04:00)
Baku – APA. The remains of a World War I soldier left in a mass grave for more than 90 years were moved by four-horse cart to a new cemetery for reburial with full honors Monday in a ceremony attended by Prince Charles, APA reports quoting “Associated Press”.
The unknown soldier’s new headstone in northern France bears a simple inscription: "A soldier of the Great War. Known unto God." His nationality is unclear, but he was either Australian or British.
German machine guns and artillery left more than 5,500 Australians and more than 1,500 British killed, wounded or missing in under 24 hours at the 1916 Battle of Fromelles, the first Australian combat operation on the Western Front.
Many of the dead were buried by Germans in a mass grave, which was covered by plants over time and discovered by an Australian amateur historian in 2008.
After more than two years of exhumation and identification work by archaeologists, 249 of the bodies were reburied under marble gravestones laid out in a V shape in a new cemetery in the French town of Fromelles.
A coffin containing the remains of the last soldier was laid in a new grave during Monday’s solemn ceremony, which honored the unknown soldier as well as his fallen brothers in arms. Some of their relatives attended.
The wooden coffin was driven from the former near the site of the mass grave — now nestled between a potato field and a leafy woods — to the cemetery in a WWI-era horsecart.
Relatives read out letters and diary entries from the soldiers, as well as letters from commanding officers commending the men’s bravery. The ceremony was attended by Prince Charles, who was wearing a gray suit adorned with military decorations, as well as his wife Camilla and top Australian officials. The event came on the 94th anniversary of the battle.
"In laying this last hero to rest we honor them all," Charles said in a speech. "Somehow, he and his friends mustered the incredible courage to climb over the parapets" and into the battle, he said. "We will never know the impact that apocalyptic scene had upon him."
Photos of the dead were shown on a large screen at the ceremony, along with photos of objects found on in the mass grave, like a torn and crumpled return ticket to Perth, which an unknown soldier had stashed in the waterproof section of his gas mask. Archaeologists excavated some 6,000 objects, including a bible, coins and a metal cross, from the communal grave.
Retired Australian banker Jim Parslow, 71, made the trip from Melbourne to honor his second cousin, William Moore, of the Australian infantry, who died at Fromelles at age 25. Parslow, an amateur genealogy buff, said Moore had been officially identified thanks to DNA provided by an unidentified family member.
"This represents closure for us. Finally, he’s been identified and honored as someone who served his country," said Parslow, who added that Moore’s brother was also killed in France in WWI. He said the deaths had long haunted the family.
"My father passed along all the information he had about (Moore) before he died and I picked up where he left off," he said.
Ian Haynes, a 70-year-old retired public servant from the Australian capital, Canberra, said he was there to honor his grandfather, Pvt. Ernest Wilkinson Ashton, who had fathered Haynes’ mother out of wedlock before heading off to war.
"He wouldn’t marry my grandmother and she said, ’go ahead, go to war,’ and he did and he died here," said Haynes. "My mother never knew her father and of course neither did I. But being here, there’s a lot of emotion," he said, tearing up. "I didn’t expect that."
Riki Samuel, 59, a London-based communications companies owner, made the trip to honor his great-uncle Edward Samuel, who died at Fromelles at age 30. Edward Samuel was a Scotsman of Jewish faith who emigrated to Australia a few years before his death. He was known to have fallen at Fromelles, but his body has not been identified.
"We’re hoping he’ll be identified during a second wave of testing later this year, but you never know," Riki Samuel said. "So many of them were blown to bits."
Only 96 of the bodies found in the communal grave have been identified by name, and all are Australians.
Another 109 bodies were confirmed to have belonged to the Australian army, but not named. Three were confirmed to be British. The other 42 are classified as unknown, the organizers said.