Pheasant Wood cemetery Anthropologists in DNA suits A return ticket from Freemantle to Perth

Project: Remembering Fromelles: Pheasant Wood, Fromelles, Northern France

Client: British and Australian Governments/Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Status: Client report completed; publication forthcoming

In 2008 OA was awarded the contract to excavate and analyse eight First World War mass graves at Pheasant Wood, Fromelles.

This, the first large-scale archaeological recovery of casualties of the Great War, was overseen by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), and was undertaken in order to bury soldiers, who had fought and died in the Battle of Fromelles (1916), with full military honours in individual graves in a new CWGC cemetery.

With an official opening planned for the new cemetery the following year, it was imperative that the recovery and analyses were completed within six months.

To meet the unique requirements of the project OA assembled a team of around 30 specialists, comprising traditional archaeologists, osteoarchaeologists, surveyors, forensic archaeologists and anthropologists, a scene of crime officer, a mortuary manager and a forensic photographer.

The works, which were followed closely by the international media, were completed with the utmost care and respect, and on time. A total of 250 soldiers and their associated items were recovered, sampled for DNA and analysed in a secure compound, adjacent the recovery site.

The DNA and archaeology are being considered by an Identification Commission, attended by a representative from OA and made up of senior experts, in an attempt to identify the soldiers, so that they can be commemorated on headstones in the new cemetery.

To date, 210 soldiers have been identified as Australian, two as British and 38 are unknown. The commission will continue until 2014.

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