In Edition 9 of Traces Magazine, Lambis Englezos discusses his search for hundreds of missing Australian soldiers in Fromelles.
On 19 July 1916, almost 2000 Australian troops were killed when attempting to attack German trenches in Fromelles, France. Encompassing all those who were killed, unaccounted for, wounded or taken as prisoner, 5533 Australians were directly affected by this battle. Hundreds of the soldiers from Australia’s 5th Division succumbed to their injuries behind German lines. The Battle at Fromelles is thought to be the greatest loss by a single division in only 24 hours during the First World War.
While the Australian troops had only been in Fromelles for a week, German forces occupied their territory for a year and a half, which gave them an added advantage. The next morning, German troops offered a truce in order for the deceased and wounded to be gathered. This was rejected by Australian General McCay. The Germans had to re-establish their defences, which led to clearing the deceased.
Around 30 Australian soldiers were killed in an attempt to recover the deceased behind enemy lines. 1322 of the missing soldiers were recovered after two and a half years from the night of the battle. The rest were buried in undisclosed locations that were unknown to the Australian troops, family members or government.
While the year 1916 may feel like a distant time in history, the circumstances surrounding the battle of Fromelles deeply affected the lives of surviving soldiers and the families involved. Many hoped that their loved ones were still alive even when the possibilities were slim. These relatives passed away without knowing any information about their fallen relatives.
Pictured is A German collecting station on the morning of the 20th July after the battle of Fromelles (Fleurbaix) with wounded Australian prisoners of war. Image courtesy of Australian War Memorial