Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetary
On 19 July, branch chairman, Rodney Curtis, together with branch standard bearer, Jimmy Rowe, and branch members Kate Curtis and Pat Rowe represented the Branch to see the last soldier from the mass graves at Fromelles reinterred and to take part in the dedication of the first War Cemetery to be constructed for over 50 years. It is an impressive achievement that most of the soldiers in the cemetery have been identified, so their names are now on the head-stones. More probable mass burial sites in the area are being investigated.
A rehearsal started at about 13h45 on 18 July and continued until after 17h30. Next day, the 19th, the party were all up early and off to the rendezvous point by 08h30. They were taken by coach to Fromelles. For the observers there were two large fields, with plenty of amenities and a very good view of the proceedings. Here, the party was joined by Lt Col Simon Owen, previous branch president (who is off on active service shortly) and branch members Philippe Zytka and Christophe Magnino.
Standards and flags lined the roads towards the cemetery through the village from Pheasant Wood (where the remains had been discovered) firstly the French Standards (there were 100 of them altogether) then with Royal British Legion Standards and Australian flags on one side of the road, and French on the other. The Standards were dipped as the renovated First World War military wagon carrying the coffin passed by. The coffin was escorted by members of the King's Troop Royal Horse Artillery; 1st Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers; 4th Battalion, The Rifles; and A Corps of Drums, British Army, and Australia's Federation Guard.
Prince Charles and Her Excellency Ms Quentin Bryce AC Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia; the Chief of the General Staff British Army, General Sir David Richards; and The Australian Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Ken Gillespie, followed the wagon.
The Duchess of Cornwall; the Duke of Kent, who is the President of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission; Her Excellency the Governor General of the Commonwealth of Australia and Mr Michael Bryce; Monsieur Hubert Falco, French Minister of State for Defence; and veterans were present. After the procession passed, Standards were marched into position close to the cemetery.
As those who watched it on the television will know, the ceremony started with the reading of letters from some of the identified soldiers who died in the battle in 1916 by relatives. This was very moving, as was the actual re-interment of the last unidentified soldier followed by three volleys of gunfire. Then came the dedication of the Cemetery; the service was led by representatives from the British and Australian Armies, and the Minden Band of the Queen's Division, British Army played under the direction of Captain Simon Haw.
The service culminated with the singing of the Marseillaise; Advance Australia Fair; the British National Anthem; and Keep the Home Fires Burning, then the gardeners who had worked on the cemetery formed a guard of honour for the departing dignitaries.
A little later a Jewish act of worship was held to remember those servicemen of the Jewish community who are among the fallen of Fromelles.