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Bullecourt Burial Sites Found


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#1 DavidB

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Posted 06 August 2010 - 12:41 AM

A report in the Melbourne Herald-Sun today (6th Aug) desc ribes the apparent finding of more burial sites of Australian soldiers in the area between Bullecourt and Riencourt-les-Cagnicourt.
It is believed that upwards of 200 soldiers were buried in the area - mainly in shell holes and up to 30 dead per hole. These finds apparently been made by a research team led by that wonder Lambis Englezos
and includesa Lou Bougias and others.The team wants the Australian Governm,ent to assist in the final phase of identifying the dead men. Apparently they were all buried with their dog tags on, if this the case
identifying the remains would not be a problem. Among the dead was Major Percy Black who was described by C E W Bean as the greatest fighting soldier in the AIF. These casualities were all from the battle
of Bullecourt.
No doubt, many of us eagerly await developments.

#2 MelPack

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Posted 06 August 2010 - 06:15 AM

Here is the link to the published story:

http://www.heraldsun...6-1225901816217

It will be very interesting if this comes to fruition.

Mel

#3 MACRAE

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Posted 06 August 2010 - 06:49 AM

A report in the Melbourne Herald-Sun today (6th Aug) desc ribes the apparent finding of more burial sites of Australian soldiers in the area between Bullecourt and Riencourt-les-Cagnicourt.
It is believed that upwards of 200 soldiers were buried in the area - mainly in shell holes and up to 30 dead per hole. These finds apparently been made by a research team led by that wonder Lambis Englezos
and includesa Lou Bougias and others.The team wants the Australian Governm,ent to assist in the final phase of identifying the dead men. Apparently they were all buried with their dog tags on, if this the case
identifying the remains would not be a problem. Among the dead was Major Percy Black who was described by C E W Bean as the greatest fighting soldier in the AIF. These casualities were all from the battle
of Bullecourt.
No doubt, many of us eagerly await developments.


The grave robbers will also eagerly waiting on confermation, and will have pick and shovel and metal detector at the ready.

Dan

#4 ianw

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Posted 06 August 2010 - 07:16 AM

Head scratching in Maidenhead and Canberra this morning?

http://1914-1918.inv...=pritchard&st=0

Interesting that there has already been quite a lot happening in the Bullecourt area including the finding of Captain Pritchard - see thread above.

I wonder if Bullecourt is similar in nature to Fromelles as what might be called a secondary battlefield. Perhaps this may explain why it may not have received the same sort of detailed clearance attention as the better known areas. And would the Australian Graves Service have had responsibility for the area? The problems that beset this organisation are now well known.

But of course, the elephant in the room here is the question of how many more of these pits exist. In the recent TV programme about Fromelles, Peter Barton suggested that there might be 30 more pits in the Fromelles area alone. One wonders just how keen the authorities will be to finance multiple mass excavations all over the Western Front.

We will watch this space with great interest.

#5 DavidB

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Posted 06 August 2010 - 07:35 AM

Further to that story, it was stated that the dead were buried ? in shell holes - 30 to a hole and just covered up, I guess in the heat of battle there wasn't much more that they could do at the time.

#6 ianw

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Posted 06 August 2010 - 07:41 AM

The word "massacre" is also used in the newspaper story. Is this just journalistic licence or is there any basis for using this word? Can anyone give further details?

#7 ianw

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Posted 06 August 2010 - 11:29 AM

I notice that the possibility is mooted that the remains of Major Percy Black DSO DCM might possibly be amongst those that might be found - a lot of mights!

He is a great Bullecourt hero with a picture of his exploits have been presented to the people of Bullecourt by the AWM and I think hangs in the Mairie. What a great story if he could be "brought home".

#8 SPOF

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Posted 06 August 2010 - 11:31 AM

The word "massacre" is also used in the newspaper story. Is this just journalistic licence or is there any basis for using this word? Can anyone give further details?


Ian


Most definitely not journalistic licence


Just outside Bullecourt, along the Rue des Australiens and along the side road to Reincourt–les–Cagnicourt, is the Australian Memorial Park with its statue of the bronze ‘Bullecourt Digger’. He gazes out over the fields of Bullecourt where in April and May 1917 the AIF lost 10,000 soldiers, killed or wounded, in their efforts to break into and hold part of the Hindenburg Line.

http://www.ww1wester...urt-digger.html

#9 ianw

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Posted 06 August 2010 - 11:42 AM

Yes, I appreciate that large numbers of Australians and others were killed so I suppose the word "massacre" can be used in its broad sense but I was trying to establish if the article was suggesting that anything happened similar say to the SS massacre of British troops at Dunkirk in 1940.

#10 SPOF

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Posted 06 August 2010 - 11:58 AM

I see. Not that I'm aware of and keep in mind the Herald Sun is a tabloid.

#11 MelPack

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Posted 06 August 2010 - 12:03 PM

I would appreciate it if someone could explain how a ground radar survey would operate in the context of the old battlefield of Bullecourt.

The initial ground radar survey that was conducted at Pheasant Wood was obviously of a very discrete area that could be accurately pinpointed by reference to maps and aerial photography and appears to have been undisturbed save for the digging and backfilling of the burial pits.

Bullecourt is obviously an entirely different proposition where subsurface disturbances would be prolific and especially so in the context of seeking to locate specific backfilled shellholes amongst hundreds if not thousands of the same.

This is a genuine question and is in no way intended to pour cold water on the enterprise.

Mel

#12 ianw

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Posted 06 August 2010 - 12:13 PM

... keep in mind the Herald Sun is a tabloid.


Yes, I'll presume that "massacre" just means that a lot of men were killed.

#13 ianw

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Posted 06 August 2010 - 12:21 PM

I would appreciate it if someone could explain how a ground radar survey would operate in the context of the old battlefield of Bullecourt.



A good question. I suppose that a burial pit will have a certain "signature" in terms of soil density and that there will be a clear signal from the undisturbed under-surface - but as you say there will be a lot of filled shell-holes at Bullecourt.

I am also intrigued that it is claimed that the ID tags will still be in situ - presumably this is from the contemporary description of the hasty burials. Also were Australian tags of a better quality than the British tags which I believe did not survive long when buried.

#14 MelPack

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Posted 06 August 2010 - 12:39 PM

Also were Australian tags of a better quality than the British tags which I believe did not survive long when buried.


Ian

The Aussie tags were made of metal as opposed to compressed fibre for the British.

Robert Moncrieff Scott's metal tag was found with his remains at Pheasant Wood which led to his identification even though he purportedly had a named grave for the best part of ninety years.

If the remains can be located with the tags in situ then that combined with the anatomical information contained in the comprehensive Aussie service papers would probably be enough to clinch an ID without the need to resort to DNA testing.

Mel

#15 ianw

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Posted 06 August 2010 - 01:45 PM

Thanks for that Mel.

Most interesting. As you say, the ID process could be much easier for these guys - if they are there , of course!

I must say that with Lambis involved, one might expect that there will be fire associated with the smoke.

#16 Herekawe

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Posted 06 August 2010 - 02:03 PM

But of course, the elephant in the room here is the question of how many more of these pits exist. In the recent TV programme about Fromelles, Peter Barton suggested that there might be 30 more pits in the Fromelles area alone. One wonders just how keen the authorities will be to finance multiple mass excavations all over the Western Front.

We will watch this space with great interest.


I think ianw has raised a key point.

When the CWGC was working through the 1920s and 30s looking into the future it was probably assumed by the CWGC planners that the function of retreiving and burying bodies of Great War soldiers was a finite task and that as time passed the numbers of bodies they would have to deal with would decline and eventually taper off. The cost then would be the maintenance of the cemeteries. However looking at the problems they seem to have had fitting all the recovered bodies into existing CWGC cemeteries over the last 50 years, they underestimated the number of bodies that could be recovered and I think discovering more bodies is actually an embarrasment to them.

Thats why in the case of the BL 15 I am sure in the past they would have quietly slipped them into Unknown graves somewhere in France but now due to changes in public attitudes, the spectre of DNA testing, members of the GWF and world wide communications it not as easy to do that any more.

If this is correct you could ask does Frommelles set a precedent for future and potentially a change of direction in the treatment of newly discovered bodies?

The sticking point is of course the cost because looking to the next 50+ years, with broader and faster internet driven research, possibly improved body discovery techniques, an interest in the Great War which is starting to drive archoelogy, and technical improvements like DNA testing there is probably a better chance of discovering and identifying bodies than there has been for many years and these technologies will only get better, more accurate and cheaper.

To cap off their potential problem there are now many more people with the time (and in many cases money) to indulge their interest in the Great War, and other interests like Travel and Geneology. People can easily travel to the Western Front from all over the world or alternatively they can study it via the internet. Either way they feel they have visual stake in it and they will set a higher standard of what they expect from the government and CWGC where they have an interest. The coverage of Frommelles will lead to a lot of people assuming that all bodies discovered from both World Wars are treated (as they should be) with the same pomp and ceremony.

In France and Belgium land use has changed if it weren't for the CAP a lot of land on the Somme would not be required for agriculture. Population has changed, more people will move in from outside and slowly interest will change to preserving the land and exploring its archeology. When you look at things like Digging up Plugstreet, Digging the Trenches and Finding the Fallen it appears that very little is touched below the plough line, so there will be a lot more bodies turn up in future.

So I am sure ianw has raised a good point. Its going to cost. I think there is probably plenty of money to pay for it, but as the last two years have shown its how and where government money is spent that might be the problem.

James

#17 ianw

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Posted 06 August 2010 - 03:58 PM

Yes, a good summary , James.

I tend to agree that the 5 star treatment of the Fromelles fallen has potentially painted the CWGC and the Governments into a bit of a corner. Having latterly lavished praise on Lambis, given him a gong etc, it is is going to be most difficult to ignore his Bullecourt discoveries. He is absolutely committed to the best treatment of these casualties so more power to his elbow on this one!

It's interesting that the official message seems to be that the BL15 will get ID work but the official line on this now seems to be that they will have to wait their turn probably for years because of the limited resources made available for the investigations and the rather bizarre statement that they are also rather busy with Afghanistan.

I must confess that it rather cheers me that the CWGC may be forced to rouse itself like Rip van Winkel from its slumbers and get used to the idea that the job is not finished, indeed that the job is entering a new rather more active stage. They must not be welcoming the prospect of the digitising of the Red Cross records spawning a whole bunch of new Lambis' demanding expensive exhumations from the North Sea down to the Somme river!

However, I think it bears repeating that any man that obeys his country's call and falls in battle deserves the minimum of a named grave in recompense.

#18 DavidB

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Posted 06 August 2010 - 09:31 PM

I think governments of today - possibly in Australia - have a ddifferent view to military dead that they did, say 60 or 70 years ago. There also is more public interest in recovering remains of soldiers
so hastily buried during the war. A few million dollars is mere peanuts these days and nothing is costly if the government of the day can see votes in it. Maybe I am being cynical.
IanW - regarding the use of the word 'massacre'I believe once again journalistic licence is at play - a massacre is what happened to the Brits. in 1940 unarmed men just being slaughtered needlessly.
The battlefield at Bullecourt to me did not come under such category - it was armed men trying to take a position against armed men trying to defend it, the result was the fortunes of war.

#19 Herekawe

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Posted 06 August 2010 - 10:29 PM

Hi

I don't think RGA that you are being overly cynical but I do wonder if Lambis and the Australians hadn't got behind it if the Frommelles discoverys would have been handled differently, still reverently but probably not so publically, with a new burial ground and all. Australia (the lucky country) is a wealthy country and there is an increasing intrest in Australia in the countries history, and a feeling of nationalism, which no doubt influences the government. The Australians also seem to get on well with the French.

Before others get excited; I am not ignoring or insulting the efforts of everyone else involved in bring the Frommelles discoveries to light, far from it, but I am sufficiently cynical to wonder if once the Australian government got going that may have tipped the balance towards a bigger and more appropriate show? I believe there are several Australian initiatives, vistor centres etc on the Western Front being prepped up for the 100 yr commemerations?

I am not sneering; I think its great and I fully intend to be there and see it all.

On another matter if some one stumbles across indications of a body from the Great War and reports it to the CWGC have any numbers ever been released by the CWGC or governement agencies itemising the cost of proper excavation, recovery, research, DNA testing, storage and reburial? I will leave out the capital cost of a new cemetery! There is talk about the cost in the GWF but I can't find any numbers. It also needs to be taken into account that the CWGC keeps a staff in France and other countries so some of the costs listed above, storage for example, may actually be part of the overheads anyway and not change with the number of bodies to be processed, which I guess will incurr some variable costs like DNA testing.

I am curious about the real costs of processing these soldiers, until we see an actual cost it is difficult to compare it with other costs the commonwealth governments face. (like MP Expenses.)

James

#20 ianw

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Posted 07 August 2010 - 12:00 AM

Of course, another famous Australian soldier that served at Fromelles and then fell at Bullecourt is Simon Fraser who is immortalised in bronze as the hero of the "Cobbers" statue. What a great thing it would be if his remains were found.

As regards the use of the word "massacre" in the press article, doing a little research did throw up some comments by Captain Wells 13th Battalion who reports some very brutal German treatment of the wounded including himself. He claims hundreds died through neglect in roughly the area that the burials may have taken place. A nasty business, war.

#21 Fedelmar

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Posted 07 August 2010 - 01:17 AM

My WW1 Hero is Major Percy Black.
A photo of him is on the wall above my desk.
George Franki writes wonderfully of him in his book titles 'Mad Harry' (Harry Murray) as Black and Murray were great mates.
Another book and Black is "No Ordinary Determination".

Bright Blessings
Sandra

#22 ianw

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Posted 08 August 2010 - 09:33 AM

I see that the old Fromelles style debate about whether to exhume or not is likely to be reprised in respect of any remains that may be at Bullecourt.

Interesting to see if the argument that "a man fallen in battle at least deserves a named gravestone" continues to hold up if the costs ratchet up. For me it's immutable and axiomatic.


http://www.heraldsun...f-1225902507550

#23 Fedelmar

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Posted 08 August 2010 - 09:45 AM

What a thing to say! (All people who cared were now dead).

He obviously wasn't at Fromelles.

#24 Scotty

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Posted 08 August 2010 - 10:08 AM

What a classy piece of journalism from Mr Campbell. :angry:

#25 ianw

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Posted 08 August 2010 - 11:22 AM

A journalist wrote this! I thought I'd found a letter from "Angry tax-payer of Woolabaloo" or similar.

I did post a response to this piece of garbage.