It’s not a tourist hotspot. In fact, it’s only a small dot on the map of Northern France.
But the rural commune of Fromelles, in the Nord region near the city of Lille, attracts crowds of travellers – because of something horrendous that happened during the First World War.
On July 19 in 1916, more than five-and-a-half thousand Australians were killed or wounded near Fromelles in what still ranks as the worst 24 hours in Australian history.
That might sound like a big call, but the toll at Fromelles was equivalent to total Australian casualties in the Boer War, Korean War and Vietnam War put together.
In the words of Australia’s War Memorial, it was “a staggering disaster” – made even worse because it had no “redeeming tactical justification”.
We haven’t been to Fromelles and, as our readers will attest, we don’t usually write about places we haven’t visited.
Nor, we wager, is Fromelles the type of destination that usually fills travel columns.
A remarkable story
But, alongside the official accounts of that terrible night is another, more recent story, that catches the eye.
For more than 90 years, the families of hundreds of Diggers who died during the Battle of Fromelles had no idea of their final resting place.
Their names were recorded on the wall at Fromelles’ VC Corner Cemetery, but they had no known grave.
Then, in 2002, an Australian art teacher and amateur war historian, Lambis Englezos, claimed that as many as 250 fallen soldiers were missing.
Where had they gone?
Together with a band of supporters, Lambis started pushing authorities and, after several frustrating years, an official geophysical survey in 2007 confirmed the likely presence of human remains in an area known as Pheasants Wood.
A high-profile Australian and British investigation known as the Fromelles Project then began the painstaking task of identifying the remains – using DNA technology, forensic science and historical data.
A new cemetery was built across the road from the Fromelles village church and, gradually, the lost soldiers were reinterred with full military honours.
Involving the community
To achieve this enormous task, the Australian Army established a register of thousands of relatives and descendants and collected hundreds of DNA samples for analysis.
The reburials of the Fromelles Fallen started in 2010 and continued through the years as the 100th anniversary of the battle loomed.
And, as a footnote to such an incredible story, Lambis Englezos was given an Order of Australia award by his government for the determined and tenacious way he fought bureaucracy on behalf of the lost soldiers.
Lest we forget.
Photos courtesy The Thomas and Jane Rose Family Society and cemetery photos courtesy Wernervcg and Wikimedia