19th August 2013:
On the 19th July a small group of members of the OA South team that recorded and analysed the remains from the First World War mass graves at Fromelles travelled back to France to attend the ceremony of the dedication of new headstones at Pheasant Wood Military Cemetery. The ceremony followed the most recent Joint Identification Board meeting, held in April, where the names of five more soldiers killed in the battle of Fromelles (19th-20th July 1916) were confirmed. The identifications bring the total number of soldiers identified to name to 124 (of 250 soldiers recovered).
Team members Helen Webb and Kate Brady recall: “It was a beautiful evening in Fromelles and when we arrived we took time to walk through the cemetery, looking out towards the Fromelles battlefield and the setting sun, reminiscing about the project and reading the inscriptions on the headstones.
“We saw a family laying wooden crosses and photographs at one of the newly inscribed graves. These were the nephew and his wife, and their son, the great nephew, of Private John Gordon McKenzie [one of the named soldiers]. After they had finished tending the grave we introduced ourselves as members of the Fromelles project team. They were immediately excited to meet us, emotional, and very grateful for all the hard work that the team had put in to recovering the soldiers’ remains. They told us that they’d been to the cemetery a number of times before and had always hoped that their Uncle John would, one day, be identified. They also explained the details of their involvement in the DNA matching process and the hard work they had put in to find a suitable DNA candidate.
“One of the photographs they left by the graveside was of the house in Australia that John McKenzie had lived in before coming to France with his regiment. Before travelling to Fromelles for the ceremony, the McKenzies had travelled some distance to visit John’s old house to retrieve a few stones, which they also left at the graveside.
“Whilst everyone of us on the team already felt great honour in having worked on the Fromelles project, speaking to this family and seeing first hand just how much it meant to them that their uncle, and great uncle, had been identified, really brought home the effect that our work has had on people's lives, reiterating to us all how rewarding playing our part in identifying the fallen soldiers of Fromelles has been.”