Posted 01 August 2010 - 03:08 PM
I had recent email conversations with Albert PRATT's descendant about this. He'd been made aware of the grave at Pozieres some time ago and realised it must be incorrect. He then set about researching it and was able to prove to the CWGC that it was not his ancestor (this was all prior to PRATT's identification at Fromelles). It's because of his research that PRATT's name was added to the addenda panel at VC Corner. Unfortunately he was not able to pinpoint the name of the man actually buried at Pozieres.
A few years ago Sandra (Fedelmar) and I discovered that there existed a grave for RGM SCOTT and yet at that time he appeared likely to actually be in the mass grave at Pheasant Wood. We looked into this case and also discovered a few others with existing named graves who quite likely were also buried at Pheasant Wood. We wrote an article about it that appeared in the FFFAIF 'Digger' magazine. Here's a transcript for you:
At Rest.....Or Are They?
A Case for Addition to the Pheasant Wood List.
At a quick glance, there is nothing obvious to suggest the name of 1046 Private Robert Grieve Moncrieff Scott is any different to the other names included in the Department of Defence’s working list of 191 Australians thought to be buried at Pheasant Wood, Fromelles. However, there is a little known fact about his interment that sets him apart from all the others.
A simple search of the Australian War Memorial’s Roll of Honour and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission online database reveals that Private Robert Scott already has an identified grave in the Rue-Petillon Military Cemetery, less than three kilometres from Fromelles.
So how is it possible that Private Robert Scott can be listed as one of those thought buried at Pheasant Wood yet also have an existing ‘named’ grave? A closer inspection of his service documents at the National Archives of Australia and the Australian War Memorial’s Red Cross Missing and Wounded files disclose some very interesting facts that suggest an unfortunate mistake may have been made.
Private Robert Scott went over the top with the 32nd Battalion on the 19th July, 1916 but the circumstances regarding his death have never been documented. What is known is that he was posted ‘missing’ after the battle until his name appeared on a German death list dated 4th November 1916, when the entry was amended to ‘killed in action’. Later in 1917 his identity disk was returned to his family from Germany clearly indicating they had at one time been in possession of his body.
It was after the war in 1919, that a search of the Imperial Prussian War Office records in Berlin by Captain Mills uncovered several death vouchers stating,
“The Australian Private Scott, R.G.M. No.1046, 32nd Bn, AIF, fell on 19/7/1916 in the neighbourhood of Fromelles.”
It was in this same period of time after the war that a Graves Registration Unit document attached to Scott’s file indicates the possible recovery of his remains but clearly states that a provisional cross was to be erected on the grave at Rue-Petillon Military Cemetery with the words ‘Believed to be’ inscribed on it. However, the most telling document was a letter written to Scott’s mother in 1924 from the Imperial War Graves Commission. It explained the process, by which Scott’s presumed resting place could be altered from being a questionable interment into a positively identified grave,
“The cross will in due course be replaced by a permanent memorial, and should no subsequent doubt have arisen as to the identity of the grave, the words, ‘Believed to be’ can be omitted, if you wish, from the inscription on this stone.”
Understandably as any mother who is grieving a lost son would do, Scott’s mother wished for nothing more than her son to have a recognized grave and therefore agreed to this offer. From that moment on, Plot I, Row L, Grave 46 at Rue-Petillon Military Cemetery was designated to contain the positively identified remains of 1046 Private Robert Grieve Moncrieff Scott.
What is fascinating to note from the IWGC’s letter is the lesser burden of proof required to determine the true identity of the grave’s occupant. Apparently it wasn’t necessary to locate evidence to support the presumed identity and only needed an absence of doubt. It must be said that if this was the standard required for proof of identification then it was very obviously open to serious error and fraught with potential mistakes.
In 2009 the Department of Defence with assistance from the Fromelles Descendant Database and FFFAIF (amongst others) assembled a working list of those Australians believed buried in the mass graves at Pheasant Wood. The basis for inclusion on this list stemmed largely from the existence of four different criteria (or a combination of these):
i. The name of the soldier was recorded as having appeared on a German death list.
ii. The location of German death vouchers in a soldiers records indicating he fell at Fromelles
iii. The soldiers identity disk was noted as having been returned from Germany.
iv. The evidence strongly suggests the soldier died in the German trenches.
As can be seen, Scott’s records clearly establish that the first three of these key elements are applicable to him and it’s also quite plausible to believe he may have reached the German lines. Therefore his inclusion on the list as having potentially been buried at Pheasant Wood is both substantiated and proper.
But the implications of such an error potentially having been made begged the question whether any further similar mistakes had been committed. Up until now, the search for these men has almost exclusively been taken from the files of the missing. Logically, nobody had ever thought to check the records of those with identified graves.
It was armed with this information, that members of the Fromelles Descendant Database team conducted a meticulous search through the files of each Australian killed at Fromelles who has a named grave. Given the rightful precedent set by the Scott case, the following names represent men that we believe should now also be added to the official working list.
715 Lance Corporal Ralph JOHNSON, 31st Battalion
- Pont du Hem Military Cemetery
Born in 1897 at Healesville, Victoria to parents Hubert and Alice Johnson, Ralph Johnson was educated at Camberwell Grammar School before leaving and gaining employment as a clerk. During this period he served four years with the Senior Cadets, attaining the rank of Sergeant.
He enlisted in July 1915 at the age of 18, joining ‘C’ Company, 31st Battalion with whom he embarked for Egypt in November 1915.
After further training in Egypt, Ralph set sail with the battalion from Alexandria, bound for Marseilles and the Western Front. Like many of the men from the 5th Division, Fromelles was to be their first and sadly in many cases, their only action on the Western Front.
Similarly to Scott, Johnson’s individual role in the actual battle has not been documented and the circumstances of his death are unknown. However his files tell the story of the subsequent confusion and misinterpretation surrounding the investigation into his burial.
Never listed as being missing even though his remains hadn’t been located, Johnson was recorded at the outset as having been killed in action on the 21st July 1916. Oddly, this date falls on the day after the battle and yet is still his official date of death according to both the Australian Roll of Honour and CWGC.
On a German death list received by the Allies and dated 4th November 1916, Johnson is noted to have died on the 19th July 1916, which differs completely from the official date recorded. The fact of the matter is that Johnson was one of a large number of 31st Battalion men who were incorrectly listed as having been killed on the 21st July and who’s names do not appear on the VC Corner Memorial but elsewhere instead. There has not been any verified reason discovered for this oversight but we can guess that it represents the soonest date after the battle that the battalion was able to check the roll and all those unaccounted for were nominally appointed that date.
To support this further, the Germans sent Johnson’s identity disk back to his relatives in 1917 and at the conclusion of the war, death vouchers were located in the Imperial Prussian War Office also indicating he had fallen in the neighbourhood of Fromelles on 19th July 1916.
But what happened next was inexplicable.
A letter written from Base Records to the Prime Minister’s Department in 1922 clearly indicates that there had been some prior discussions dating back to 1920 regarding the final resting place of Ralph Johnson. The content of these initial discussions are unknown but it can be gleaned that a belief had been formed that Johnson had died as a prisoner of war on the 21st July and subsequently buried at Beaucamps Communal Cemetery German Extension. This is at odds with all recorded German documentation and does not gel with other cases of this nature. We are able to refer to a number of confirmed cases of Australian’s who did die as prisoners of war shortly after the battle and in all their files the specific date and location of their burial in a German cemetery was accurately recorded. Then why not Johnson’s?
But further to this, the letter claims that the IWGC were able to locate the German soldier, Johann Fischer, who apparently buried Johnson and indicated the exact place of his burial at Beaucamps. Even if we were to ignore the implausibility of a young German soldier on a burial detail in the middle of the Great War recalling accurately the name of Lance Corporal Ralph Johnson six years later, when a search of the plot indicated was conducted, no remains were found at all. In fact, a later memorandum to the Prime Minister’s Department dated in 1924 further clarifies this,
“I have now to inform you that a further communication has been received from the Imperial War Graves Commission stating that all British bodies have now been exhumed from Beaucamps Communal Cemetery German Extension and reburied at Pont du Hem Military Cemetery, La Gorgue and that during the work of exhumation nothing was found which could be connected to the burial of Pte. Johnson.”
As a result of this, it was decided that a ‘special memorial’ be erected at Pont du Hem Military Cemetery to indicate the suspected circumstances of his burial. The text of this memorial was decided upon and his parents notified of the outcome,
“To the memory of this Australian soldier who died as a Prisoner of War and is believed to have been buried at the time in Beauchamps Communal Cemetery German Extension, but whose grave is now lost. Their glory shall not be blotted out.”
What is interesting to note is that although still being recorded as a special memorial, Johnson’s headstone no longer bears this inscription - if it ever even did.
It is our contention, supported by German documentation of the time, that 1046 Lance Corporal Ralph Johnson did not die as a prisoner of war on the 21st July 1916 and was never buried at Beaucamps Communal Cemetery German Extension to begin with. All the available evidence points to the fact that he is very likely to have been one of the 250 Australian and British soldiers buried in the mass graves at Pheasant Wood, Fromelles.
3006 Corporal Percy George Archibald Barr, 54th Battalion
- Rue du Bois Military Cemetery
Percy Barr was born in Oxford, England but in 1903, at the age of 6 years, he was brought to Australia by his parents who took up address at Dulwich Hill, Sydney.
After being educated at Arnold College, Petersham and serving four years in the Senior Cadets and another one with the Citizen Military Forces, Barr enlisted with the 10th Reinforcements, 2nd Battalion in July 1915.
Upon arrival in Egypt in February 1916, he was re-assigned to the 54th Battalion during the reshuffle of troops after the Gallipoli campaign. In the weeks just prior to leaving for France in June 1916, Percy was promoted to the rank of Corporal.
Less than a month after arriving on the Western Front, Percy Barr took part in the Fromelles battle and fortunately there is some record of what happened to him. In later statements taken by the Red Cross, fellow members of his battalion all stated that he had been killed by shellfire whilst in the German lines and that his body had to be left there when they retired.
A search of his files reveal the fact that his name was one of those recorded on the German death list dated 4th November 1916 and that his identity disk was located after the war in German possession. Further to this, German death vouchers were also found indicating that Barr had fallen at Fromelles on 19th July, 1916.
Everything at this point appears to fit the criteria with the possibility of Barr being one of those buried at Pheasant Wood but unexplainably in 1920 he is listed on a Graves Registration concentration report as being interred at Rue du Bois Military Cemetery. Enquiries made with the CWGC regarding their records for this cemetery proved fruitless as apparently many of the burial returns were scrapped during the Second World War, presumably as part of a recycling drive to aid the war effort. We are therefore unable to determine the circumstances surrounding his apparent recovery and cannot assess the veracity of its likelihood.
What has been established is that Barr’s grave has always only ever been inscribed as “Believed to be”, and never formally confirmed to actually contain his remains. Strangely, his mother was offered the same option of having those words omitted from his headstone and like Scott’s mother, she agreed, but for some unknown reason they never have been.
1137 Corporal Walter Godfrey Hughes, 54th Battalion
- Ration Farm Military Cemetery
Born in South Melbourne Victoria, Walter Hughes was a 43 year old station overseer/accountant living with his wife in Moore Park, Sydney when he enlisted at the very earlier stages of the war with the 1st Reinforcements, 2nd Battalion.
Joining the battalion shortly after they had arrived in Egypt, Walter Hughes then took part in the landing at Anzac Cove in April 1915 and served throughout the Gallipoli campaign.
Like Percy Barr, Hughes was re-assigned to the 54th Battalion after the withdrawal from Gallipoli and travelled with them to France in June 1916, taking part in the battle of Fromelles less than a month later.
Listed as missing after the battle, he was not confirmed as having been killed in action until his identity disk was returned from the Germans in 1917, even though his name had appeared on the German death list dated 4th November 1916.
The only narrative of his death comes from a single member of the 54th Battalion who stated he had seen Hughes killed by rifle fire just outside their own trench. This report was never verified by corroborating statements and therefore cannot be considered as entirely reliable. Indeed, German death vouchers located after the war at the Imperial Prussian War Office confirm their previous notifications that Hughes had been killed in the neighbourhood of Fromelles on 19th July 1916, all of which strongly indicate they had taken possession of his remains after the battle.
Again, enquiries with the CWGC revealed that the burial returns for Ration Farm Military Cemetery have been destroyed and we are none the wiser with regards to the supposed discovery of his remains. All we have is a Graves Registration concentration report in Hughes’ service file detailing his apparent burial at Ration Farm in 1920 and a note regarding a photograph taken of the headstone after his re-burial.
Without the burial returns, it is hard to determine whether the Germans might have given Hughes a separate battlefield grave that was later discovered and exhumed by the Graves Registration Unit. Nevertheless, in the absence of any evidence that either proves or disproves the circumstances of his burial, we must consider the established criteria for inclusion on the Department of Defence’s working list of names. Clearly, he falls into the first three of those categories and as such should be added to it as quite possibly being one of those buried in the mass graves at Pheasant Wood.
1916 Private Arthur Francis Engel, 60th Battalion
- Ration Farm Military Cemetery
Arthur Engel was born in 1893 at Echuca Victoria to New Zealand emigrants Arthur and Catherine Engel. Living with his parents in Prahran, Arthur was employed as a labourer until his enlistment with the 3rd Reinforcements, 23rd Battalion in June 1915.
After leaving Australia, he joined the 23rd Battalion in October 1915 and saw out the final months of the Gallipoli campaign with them until being admitted to hospital in December with trench foot, frostbite and influenza.
After their return to Egypt, Engel was taken on strength of the newly formed 60th Battalion and sent to France in June 1916.
Like so many others who fell during the Great War, there is no record of his final moments and immediately after the battle he was posted as missing in action. It was not until the 13th September 1916 that his name appeared on a German death list and notification was made that his personal effects were in German hands (his identity disk was returned to his family in 1921). Initially misinterpreted to mean he had died as a Prisoner of War in Germany, this was later rectified to show that he had been killed in action at Fromelles on the 19th July 1916. The German death vouchers and associated documents located after the war and reproduced in both his service file and Red Cross records, verify these details.
The first mention of a burial for Arthur Engel was in 1920 when the Graves Registration Unit noted it in his file. Subsequent notifications to family and headstone photograph offers substantiate that authorities thought him to be buried at Ration Farm. Unfortunately, as we have already seen, the burial returns for Ration Farm no longer exist and there is no way we can establish how his recovery and identification was made.
Like Hughes, it is possible that Engel’s remains may have been recovered from an unmarked individual grave set apart from those at Pheasant Wood, but without further evidence to prove this, and with the records sustaining the necessary criteria for inclusion, he also must be considered as potentially having been buried in the mass graves.
NB. The story regarding Ralph JOHNSON needs updating as we have recently discovered the communications to and from the German soldier, Johann FISCHER who claimed to have buried him. Although this adds a new twist to that particular tale, we believe it doesn't alter the conclusions above and that JOHNSON is likely to have been buried at Pheasant Wood.
I hope everyone found that interesting.