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DNA Test to Identify World War I Dead


Graves holding the bodies of approximately 400 soldiers who died fighting in the Battle of Fromelles in 1916 will be exhumed by The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) in order to find out more about the soldiers lives and identities.

During the historic battle which spanned two hot and heart-wrenching Summer days, more than 1,600 UK soldiers and 5,500 Australian servicemen were killed. Following the battle, their bodies were buried in a mass gravesite by the German servicemen who had killed them. The battle took place only 50 miles away from the Battle of the Somme which was fought at the same time.

A website which has been specially made for the historical dig aims to give names to the men buried at Fromelles. Plans are also in place for a site to be set up at and it will publish details on discoveries as they are made. Meanwhile, already holds some details related to who the soldiers buried at the site might be and where they may be from.

DNA Test Finding Clues

According to one expert who will be working on exhuming the gravesite, Peter Francis, after the battle the Germans would have removed a lot of identifying features from the dead in order to gather intelligence on the units they were pitted against. This means that the people who are exhuming the bodies in the following months are not expecting to find a lot of material clues as to who is lying in each of the graves.

Instead, the historians and archaeologists hope to link the dead soldiers with their surviving relatives using a DNA test and they will compile a database of DNA data to methodically sort through who might be related to whom. It’s also understood that the experts will be additionally cross referencing census data and other documentation to find out more about each solider.

Resting in Peace

It has been reported that the bodies which are exhumed during the dig will be taken to a new military grave and given an official ‘full military honours’ burial replete with a named gravestone.

One reason for the relocation is that the current site is not well placed for visitors and also suffers from seasonal flooding. Some Australian artefacts made of metal have already been found on the site using metal detectors and a geophysical non-invasive survey of the area has shown the densely buried soldiers’ bodies in moderate condition.

When the professionals heading the project speak to prospective relatives of the dead soldiers, they claim that descendants are all saying words with the same sentiment time and time again; which is that the soldiers ‘are not at peace.’ Many people have sent project leaders photographs and documents relating to their ancestors who they believe to be buried at Fromelles.

By working through the graves and determining the identity and the descendants of each of the soldiers, the project organisers hope that they can rectify this and give the dead the ‘peace’ which their descendants want so dearly for them.