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Reburial for first world war soldiers

PUBLISHED: 10:53 11 September 2009 | UPDATED: 08:30 01 August 2010

TWELVE soldiers from Norfolk and Suffolk who were killed in one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War are set to be reburied with full military honours after being recovered from mass graves.

TWELVE soldiers from Norfolk and Suffolk who were killed in one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War are set to be reburied with full military honours after being recovered from mass graves.

The remains of 250 servicemen from Britain and Australia who died during the Battle of Fromelles were discovered in northern France two years ago.

The Ministry of Defence yesterday revealed that all of the bodies and possessions of the soldiers had been recovered after a four-month archaeological operation.

It comes after a team, including Norfolk-based archaeologist Malcolm Weale, uncovered the graves more than 90 years after the Germans buried the men at Pheasant Wood, Fromelles.

The MoD yesterday said that the soldiers would be buried with full military honours with unnamed graves at a new military cemetery close to the original burial site next year.

DNA tests are ongoing to identify the men. However Sgt Robert Chaplin, 19, and L/Sgt Alan Shreeve, 23, both from Norwich, are already known to have died in the Battle of Fromelles. And another 10 from the Norwich, Yarmouth, Lowestoft, Beccles, King's Lynn and Fakenham areas are believed to have also been buried at the site.

The gunfight in northern France began on July 19, 1916 and was the first major battle on the Western Front to involve both British and Australian troops. In total, the 61st British Division suffered losses of 1,547 personnel and the 5th Australian Division lost 5,533 soldiers.

Initial ground radar surveys were carried out on the burial site by Malcolm Weale, from East Harling-based Geofizz in 2007, with the first excavations beginning last summer by Oxford Archaeology. In total, 250 sets of remains and 1,200 artefacts have been excavated from six graves.

Mr Weale said it was “very moving” to see the pit being opened up and his family would be paying a pilgrimage to the new Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery when it is opened by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission next year.

“A lot of my work involves looking for artefacts or a crash site, but finding the heroes that fought in battle was absolutely amazing. It brings it all home when you think that soldiers from Norfolk and Suffolk were involved,” he said.

The first reburials are set to start in February and each grave will be marked by a headstone following the formal identification process.

Veterans minister Kevan Jones said the cemetery would be officially opened on the 94th anniversary of the Battle of Fromelles on 19 July, 2010.

“This is a milestone in the development of the project. We will do everything we can to try to identify each and every one of these fallen soldiers. What is most important is that these men are laid to rest with full military honours and the dignity they deserve,” he said.

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