Press Conference, Fromelles France

Release details

Release type

Related ministers and contacts

The Hon Matt Keogh MP

Minister for Defence Personnel

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

Media contact

Stephanie Mathews on 0407 034 485

Release content

24 April 2024

SUBJECT: Restoration of Identities to Seven Australian First World War Soldiers.

MINISTER FOR VETERANS’ AFFAIRS AND DEFENCE PERSONNEL, MATT KEOGHIt's my great pleasure to be here to make an important announcement on behalf of the Australian Government. When we commemorate our fallen, we say the words, lest we forget, and they are not meaningless words, they have a real practical impact. When we say lest we forget, it's about remembering, and we do remember those who have fought and those that have fallen. And a very practical way in which we remember those that have fought on behalf of our country and with our allies has been to make sure that we continue the work more than a century on to identify the remains of those people that have served in the Australian uniform where we do not know where they have been.

And right here and in this area with the Battle of Fromelles we had great loss of life, great tragedy across all nations and that meant that many were left buried sometimes in mass graves like we've had here for many years and indeed for over a century. But the work of being able to try and identify who those brave men were so that their families, their descendants can know eventually their final resting place is one that is terribly important and sends a strong message I think to all of our nations that when we say those words lest we forget we very much mean it and we mean it for each individual soldier, sailor, and aviator. And so that means that we are able today, able to announce that through the great work that has happened with the Australian Army and working with its partner countries and our academic researchers and assistants and working with families have been able to identify these seven individuals who fought for Australia. Private Alfred William Ansell who served under the name of Alfred William Fitch who was in the 5th Pioneer Battalion, and died aged 29. Private George Robert Barnatt of the 29th Battalion, aged just 31. Corporal Percy George Barr of the 54th Battalion, aged 19. Private William Christopher Brumby of the 31st Battalion, aged 29. Private Herbert James Graham of the 54th Battalion, aged 24. Lance Corporal Harold Thompson Smith of the 8th Field Company Engineers, who was killed on his 20th birthday. And Private Ernest Frank Studdon who served under the name of Ernest Frank Welling of the 30th Battalion, aged 31. These seven soldiers who have now been identified from a previous mass grave will be able to be reinterred to have their final resting place to have themselves identified with a proper headstone. Their names known, their families able to find and locate a place where they can come and remember them as well.

That will occur in July on the anniversary of the Battle of Fromelles down at the Pheasant Wood Cemetery which will be an important opportunity for their families and for the Australian community to pay respect to these soldiers now that we've been able to identify their remains. And it's great that we are now able to do that and announce the identity of these individuals. But the work doesn't stop here. There are still many more across the battlefields of France, Belgium and so many other places around the world that the Australian Defence Force will continue to undertake these identification operations as we live out the words lest we forget. Thank you.

JOURNALIST: Can you remind us why we are here today?

MINISTER KEOGH: So today we are here because the Australian Government and the Australian Army have been undertaking the important work, continuing work now over a century after the Battle of Fromelles to identify the remains of those previously unidentified soldiers. And we've now been able to announce the name of seven soldiers that were previously unidentified and that will be reinterred with proper graves and identification at the Pheasant Wood Cemetery in July for the anniversary of the Battle of Fromelles. [French Translation]

JOURNALIST: You said this place was very important because a huge battle happened here. Can you remind us of it?

MINISTER KEOGH: So the Battle of Fromelles is terribly important for Australians because it was the place of the greatest loss of life for Australians in one day in 24 hours. [French Translation]. And so it is a great demonstration of Australia's dedication to the cause here on the Western Front in France during the Great War. [French Translation]

JOURNALIST: So many years after the battle, it was important to identify the soldiers and to say the names?

MINISTER KEOGH: In Australia, we feel it's incredibly important that we forever remember those that lost their lives in war in the Australian uniform. And that's not just an idea, but it's something that is practical as well in making sure that we find and identify all Australian soldiers as much as we possibly can. And that's what we've been able to do here with these seven. [French Translation]

JOURNALIST: What’s next? Is there something?

MINISTER KEOGH: Yes. The next stage will be at the anniversary of the Battle of Fromelles this year in July. They'll be reinterred at the Pheasant Wood Cemetery, and their family members, their descendants will be invited to participate in that ceremony. I think that's again, an important demonstration of how we honor those that have fought for Australia and have died in battles for Australia. [French Translation]

JOURNALIST: And you said earlier there's still a lot of work to do. What kind of work?

MINISTER KEOGH: So the work here is ongoing. There are still many remains that are still unidentified here, but also in other parts around the world, not just from the First World War, but from later conflicts as well. And that's important work that we continue to undertake. [French Translation]

JOURNALIST: One last question. Usually you make that kind of big announcement from Australia. Why from France today?

MINISTER KEOGH: I'm making the announcement from France today because it's here that they have been found and that they'll be reinterred and in the lead up to Anzac Day in two days time, which is an incredibly important day of commemoration and remembrance for Australia. We don't just acknowledge that at home, but we acknowledge that around the world in significant places like here in France. And so it's important to give that emphasis to Australian operations around the world in support of our friends. [French Translation]

JOURNALIST: Thank you very much.



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