Seven First World War soldiers' identities restored

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The Hon Matt Keogh MP

Minister for Defence Personnel

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

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Stephanie Mathews on 0407 034 485

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24 April 2024

When we say “lest we forget” we mean it, we will remember them, we do remember them.

Today, consistent with this commitment, we remember seven Australian Army soldiers whose identities have now been restored, some 108 years after their deaths. 

On the night of 19-20 July 1916, these seven Aussie soldiers were killed in the battle of Fromelles, having fought their way into enemy positions. They were later buried by German forces in an unmarked mass grave which lay undiscovered until 2007.  

The Australian Army has undertaken a careful process comparing DNA with forensic and historical evidence, and we can now reveal the identities of those no longer lost to history: 

  • Private Alfred William Ansell (served under the alias Fitch)
  • Private George Robert Barnatt
  • Corporal Percy George Barr
  • Private William Christopher Brumby
  • Private Herbert James Graham
  • Lance Corporal Harold Thompson Smith 
  • Private Ernest Frank Studdon (served under the alias Welling) 

The battle of Fromelles involved the 5th Australian Division and the British 61st Division.

Many historians consider it to be ‘the worst 24 hours in Australia's history’, it was a costly introduction to war on the Western Front, with more than 5,500 Australians killed, wounded or taken prisoner within a matter of hours.

Corporal Barr, Lance Corporal Smith, Private Ansell, Private Barnatt, Private Brumby, Private Graham and Private Studdon will have their headstones re-dedicated on the anniversary of the battle at Fromelles on 19 July. 

Quotes attributable to Minister for Defence Personnel, Hon Matt Keogh:

“It is an honour to be able to restore these soldiers’ identities, and know they will now rest under headstones bearing their names.

“Australia does not forget those who serve our nation, and the ongoing work to find and identify our war dead is a testament to this debt of gratitude to them, and to their loved ones.

“These men have been identified thanks to many soldiers, experts, volunteers and decedents who have contributed their time, skill and in some instances DNA to make these identifications possible. Now 180 of the 250 soldiers recovered from the German mass grave at Pheasant Wood, near the French village of Fromelles, have been identified.”

Quotes attributable to Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Simon Stuart:

“The identifications are an opportunity to reflect on the service of these seven soldiers. Fromelles was the first major action fought by Australian troops on the Western Front, and the first time they were confronted with devastating artillery and machine-gun fire. 

“Despite impossible odds, Australian soldiers still succeeded in crossing No Man’s Land and breaching the enemy positions, which is where these seven men were killed in close combat.

“While it has been more than a century since the fighting at Fromelles, this Anzac Day we remember these men who we have restored with their identities. We think of their loved ones who never knew their fate, and all who have served and continue to serve.”

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