2nd June 2014:
In April, a representative of Oxford Archaeology reconvened with other subject matter experts at Australia House, London, in a continued attempt to identify 250 allied soldiers who had been killed in the Battle of Fromelles in northern France during the First World War. The meeting, which scrutinised archaeological, anthropological, historical and DNA evidence, concluded with the annual Joint Identification Board, at which it was confirmed that 20 soldiers have been identified by name.
These identifications mark the final year of the annual joint UK and Australian board, which has been meeting since 2010. They raise the total number of named soldiers to 144, which far exceeds that which was predicted at the outset of the project, which is the first of its kind.
The identifications were made possible using evidence recovered during the excavation of mass graves by a multidisciplinary team led by Oxford Archaeology. The team undertook a forensic analysis of the soldiers' skeletonised remains, collected and recorded associated artefactual evidence, and prepared samples for DNA analysis. The DNA evidence was compared with that from living descendants.
The names of the soldiers identified this year will be engraved on their headstones at their new resting place since 2010, Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) military cemetery, ahead of the annual commemoration of the Battle of Fromelles on 19th July.
Of the 106 soldiers still not identified to a name, 75 are considered to have served for the Australian Army, 2 for the British Army and 29 remain 'known unto God'. Future work to identify these soldiers will now revert to being a national responsibility.
A book about the remarkable excavation and pioneering analyses will be published by Oxford Archaeology in July. 'Remember Me to All': The Archaeological Recovery and Identification of 250 Soldiers Who Fought and Died in the Battle of Fromelles, 1916 describes what has been the largest operation of recovery and identification of First World War soldiers since the 1920s.