A hundred years ago next Tuesday, Australian soldiers launched their first major attack in France, a disastrous action which left almost 2000 dead for no gains whatsoever.
This was the Battle of Fromelles, now regarded as the worst day of Australian military history.
From the evening of July 19, 1916 Australian troops attacked German lines, held a small section overnight and were expelled, with casualties of 5533, including 1917 dead and 470 prisoners.
For some people today, the connection is more immediate – it was their DNA which has allowed identification of 150 Australian soldiers whose bodies were found in mass graves on the Fromelles battlefield in 2008. Another 100, mostly Australians but some British, remain unidentified.
Fromelles will be marked by significant commemorations.
In France, a service for re-dedication of headstones of the recently identified will be held at the Pheasant Wood Military Cemetery at 1pm (France time) on July 19.
That’s followed by the main national commemorative service at 5.15pm (France time) at the VC Corner Cemetery and Memorial where more than 400 Australians killed in this battle are interred.
Services will be broadcast live on the ABC.
The Australian War Memorial will mark this tragic initiation to war on the Western Front at the Last Post Ceremony on July 19.
That will recall the lives of Privates David and Colin Barr, brothers from Melbourne who enlisted together, joined the AIF’s 60th Battalion and participated in the Battle of Fromelles.
David Barr, 25, was hit and died in no-man’s land, his body never recovered. Colin Barr, 19, was struck by a shell fragment and died in hospital in England more than a month later.
Of more than 800 men in the 61st Battalion at the start of the battle, just four officers and 61 soldiers were present at the subsequent roll call.