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Australian World War I soldiers' graves dedicated after DNA identification

Reuters/Jean-Yves Bonvarlet

A ceremony to mark the graves of nine Australian soldiers killed in a historic World War I battle was held at Fromelles, eastern France, on Friday. Their remains were identified by DNA tests 96 years after their deaths.

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“We are here today to fulfil a pledge made almost a century ago, one that promised that they would not be forgotten, and that the names of those who made the ultimate sacrifice here in Fromeles, would be etched in stone,” declared Australian Defence Secretary David Feeney at the headstone dedication ceremony.

My great-uncle was 20 when he died 96 years ago. His name has been returned.

Graeme Winn, great-nephew of John Cyril Wynn

“These men died during the bloodiest 24 hours in Australia’s military history and almost a century on, we can finally give them, and their families, the dignity of a known grave.”

About 20,000 soldiers from the British empire took part in the battle of Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) on 19-20 July 1916.

It aimed to divert German troops from the Battle of the Somme, which was raging 80 kilometres to the south.

More than 70,000 Australian and British soldiers were killed, wounded, captured or reported missing once the fighting had stopped.

DNA tests have identified 119 of the 250 soldiers whose remains were found in 2009 in a mass grave dug by the Germans.

Scientists hope to identify the 131 remaining and the Australian army has appealed to relatives of soldiers who died at Fromelles to contact its representatives.

“Memory is never so alive as when it brings together men across frontiers and across generations as it does tonight,’ said Fromelles mayor Hubert Huchette.

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