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Webmatters : Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery
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Pheasant Wood

The Final Burial

19th July 2010

The burials of 249 soldiers from the original 250 had taken place earlier in the year and during a special ceremony on the 19th July 2010 (The 94th Anniversary of the Battle of Fromelles) the final soldier was laid to rest.

The last soldier

The last soldier

On a very hot summer’s morning thousands gathered to pay their respects to the 250th soldier recovered at Pheasant Wood. A large number of French and Flemish voices could be heard mingling with the overwhelming presence of Australians and British who had come to witness this historic event.

A nice touch for the French visitors was a small radio which offered instantaneous translations of the speeches and information.

In the build up to the burial large screens recounted the story of the battle of Fromelles and provided some personal background to those who now lie within the new cemetery. During the ceremony they allowed everybody to have a superb view of the proceedings.

 

The atmosphere

The Australian in France The CWGC exhibition Early in the morning Australian soldiers, past and present Collectors of badges Summer hats were a necessity A moment's shade whilst watching the screens This lady will appear again Very elegant A fine collection of medals Slouch hats for all sizes In the amenities area Hat exchanged for ices ? Stéphane and Victor

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The parking arrangements seemed to be well organised and those of us with our e-tickets were ushered into a field alongside the main stand for the invited guests. I rather think that we at least did get some shade for part of the morning and most in the public area were a lot less formally dressed, in keeping with the temperatures.

There were exhibitions explaining the background to the new cemetery and offering an insight into the battle. A large catering area was also available offering a moment’s respite from the sun with a cold drink.

With the numbers of ordinary attendees having been strictly controlled to about 5,000 there was plenty of room for people to sit in family groups or wander about.

 

The arrival of the last soldier

Keeping a close on everything that moved HRH The Duke of Kent Poilus and Spahis - who must have been hot Letters from the front The Firing Party The carriage arrives The King's Troop RHA in First World War uniforms British and Australian soldiers The carriage swings in front of the cemetery entrance Preparing the lift Lifting the coffin HRH The Prince of Wales waiting to enter the cemetery The final walk begins

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A First World War carriage was used to carry the coffin of the last soldier pulled by a team of horses from the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery in period uniforms. Having arrived into the village centre it was met by HRH The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall.

With bearer and firing parties made up from soldiers of the 1st Bn Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, The Rifles and Australia’s Federation Guard the cortege was led through the village by the Corps of Drums of the Fusiliers.

HRH The Duke of Kent as President of the CWGC gave the welcoming address praising the fine work of all those who had been involved in the research, excavation and construction work that had resulted in this fine new cemetery.

The soldiers were: “lost no longer… they were here, at last, in peace”

Whilst we were able to watch the events outside in the village via the screens, within the cemetery area relatives of those who fell at Fromelles read letters from the front. Some of those soldiers are now known to be buried in the new cemetery, others sadly remain unidentified.

The sound of the fifes and drums became more audible and the cortege arrived before the entrance to the cemetery.

The carriage and team swung around and the bearer party lifted the coffin for its last few metres walk.

As the coffin entered the cemetery the burial service began, led by The Reverend Russell Mutzelburg. He was accompanied by The Venerable Stephen Robbins QHC, the Reverend Catie Inches-Ogden and the Reverend Father Paschal Hanrahan.

 

The burial

At the grave side The lowering of the coffin The Prince of Wales and the Governor-General of Australia Lt General Ken Gillespie The exhortation by WO1 Stephen Ward Laying the first wreaths On behalf of France and the CWGC M Hubert Falco le sécretaire d'Etat aux Vétérans HE The Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia The Prince of Wales Children from Fromelles carrying roses HRH The Prince of Wales places his rose on the coffin Ms Quentin Bryce, Governor-General of Australia The Prince chatting with Australians

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Following the burial service and the Exhortation, three volleys were fired over the cemetery and the Last Post was sounded followed by a minute’s silence.

Wreaths were then laid on behalf of the United Kingdom, Australia, France and the CWGC.

M Hubert Falco le sécretaire d’Etat français à la Défense et aux Vétérans led the tributes on behalf of the French Nation. He reminded us of the debt that France owed these young men who had come from far and near to fight for France.

He was followed by HE Ms Quentin Bryce Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia who brought applause from the crowd when she mentioned the work carried out by Lambis Englezos (Who had carried out the research and was the prime instigator in having something done about it).

“Soldiers, hear our cry. We cry in grief for your loss so long ago, and in joy, on your return today. Lest we forget.”

In his speech Prince Charles stated:

“I am profoundly humbled by the outstanding bravery of these men who fought so valiantly in the indescribable mud and carnage, many thousands of miles from their families and from their homes.”

Following the National Anthems the dignitaries were presented with roses by Fromellois schoolchildren. As they passed the grave each dropped their rose onto the coffin. At the entrance a guard of honour was formed by the gardeners who have worked tirelessly to create this new cemetery through one of the coldest winters the north of France has seen in a while.

It is hard to believe that six months ago all was covered in snow and mud.

A smile and a wave from the Prince

A smile and a wave from the Prince

Before leaving for the official reception both the Prince of Wales and Ms Bryce took a moment to talk to the people in the public area.

 


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