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Webmatters : Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery
Rough Map of Area

Pheasant Wood

The Burials

15th February 2010

A grey and snowy sky

A grey and snowy sky

The burials of 248 soldiers from the original 250 continued through the first three weeks of February finishing slightly ahead of schedule.

The north of France this winter has received more than its fair share of snow and bitterly cold weather, but despite this the burials have proceeded at a dignified pace with little shelter or respite for the soldiers and staff taking part.

The 15th February was the first day’s duty by the 4th Bn The Rifles of the British Army whilst soldiers drawn from Australia’s Federation Guard continued to provide their burial parties.

Following an opening service in the morning the burials continued throughout the day until the evening.

The officers arrive for the Close of Day ceremony

The officers arrive for the Close of Day ceremony

The burials have been organised so as to ensure that each soldier now lies beside those who accompanied him for ninety years in the burial ground at Pheasant Wood.

A Rifleman explained to me that the duty was somewhat unusual in that it was repetitive.

As snow fell a hearse would draw in to the enclosure to be met by a bearer party. Each of the two nations taking it in turns to lead the ceremony.

The Bearer Party

The Bearer Party

Chaplains from the Australian and British Armed Forces took it in turns each day to conduct the service, their voices ringing out over the cemetery regardless of whether those watching were measured by the handful or the dozen. I suspect that it would not have mattered if the visitors area had been devoid of people.

February burials

Their is a drill movement for every geste

The bearer party remained faithful to the drill book, the freezing temperature causing no haste in their movements.

Speaking to the Reverend Irwin at Bullecourt on ANZAC day he confirmed that I had indeed heard him declaiming Latin. I had correctly realised that for all Roman Catholic soldiers of the period Latin would have been the language of their services (If you have seen the film Joyeux Noël you will appreciate the point).

It was a sensitive touch which helped bring home the length of time that has passed. As the soldiers opposing them had been Bavarian (who are for the most part Catholic) there was every chance that if anything had been said over their graves in 1916 the words would have been Latin.

If you had been tempted to think that away from the media interest of the first burial on the 30th January that the attention to detail would have been any less, you would have been mistaken.

Everything was as it should have been.

As the coffin was lowered into its allotted place and the bearer party marched smartly out of the cemetery into the only shelter available, a small marquis in the car park, that sense of the unusual of which the Rifleman had spoken became evident.

For as one bearer party fell out, another formed up and marched out into the snow. Exactly to time, a hearse was approaching at walking pace with the next of those to be brought home to rest.

The Firing Party

The Firing Party

Following the final burial of the day, a Close of Day ceremony took place. The burial party being joined by buglers and a firing party.

Three volleys

Three volleys were fired, the Collects and Exhortation read, and the Last Post sounded. Following a two minutes silence Reveille rang out and the Australian and Union flags were raised to full mast.

We have remembered them — with all due dignity and respect.

 


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