LAMBIS Englezos, whose research uncovered unmarked war graves in France containing the bodies of 250 soldiers, has been a guest of honour at the Newcastle Combined Schools ANZAC Service.
Retired teacher Mr Englezos joined relatives of Hunter men who fought in Fromelles and 1400 students from 40 Catholic, independent and state schools at the 61st annual service, which was held in the Civic Theatre.
“I have never seen anything like this before,” Mr Englezos said of the service, which focused on the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Fromelles, which took place on the night of July 19, 1916.
The battle was the worst night in the country’s military history and involved 5533 Australian casualties, including 2000 dead and 1336 missing.
“There’s a beautiful creative energy behind all of this. It’s a wonderful initiative to encourage youth to commemorate and remember the service and sacrifice made for this country.”
Artistic director Michelle Gosper said the 60 minute event included elements of a traditional ANZAC service, including laying tributes, a lone piper playing a lament, The Ode of Remembrance, the Last Post, a minute of silence, the Reveille and the national anthem.
But it also included a moving drama performance and musical numbers, The Mothers Song and Fromelles.
“Not many young people have experience with these events and this is a great way for them to learn about the war through stories told in a dramatic and engaging way,” Ms Gosper said.
The service also focused on the story of Mr Englezos, who visited Fromelles in 2002 and realised there was a discrepancy between the lists of the missing and the numbers of unidentified soldiers in surrounding cemeteries. He said his theory the Germans had buried a number of soldiers in unmarked mass graves at Pheasant Wood was met with “active discouragement from official authorities”, but proved to be correct. Of the 250 soldiers found, 144 have been identified, including 11 Hunter men.
Service attendee Reginald Coghlan, 91, praised the event as “marvellous” and “respectful”. He said it brought to life the experience of his late father Edward Joseph Coghlan of Mayfield, who survived Fromelles.