Departement du Nord
Postal Code: 59249
|Cemetery notes and/or description:|
The recently constructed Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery is the first new Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery in more than 50 years and after exhumation and identification of the remains found at Pheasant Wood, the cemetery, designed by Barry Edwards, was opened and officially dedicated on 19 July 2010, the 94th anniversary of the Attack at Fromelles.
Fromelles is a small village situated in the Nord/Pas de Calais region of Northern France,22 kilometres west of Lille and 10 kilometres south-southwest of Armentières,and 104 kilometres south east of Calais,close to the villages of Aubers and Herlies.The cemetery is sign posted from the main N41 Lille - La Basse road. When arriving in Fromelles the cemetery is located on Rue de la Basse Ville opposite the church and civil cemetery.
Internal gradients are manageable for those with mobility problems and there is ramped access to the Cross of Sacrifice terrace.
The cemetery has its own parking area.
The Battle of Fromelles
On 19 July 1916, the officers and men of the British 61st (2nd South Midland) and the 5th (Australian) divisions, [two infantry divisions newly arrived on the Western Front] under the overall command of General Richard Haking, staged an assault on the German lines around the village of Fromelles. The attack was designed to prevent the Germans from sending units from this sector to reinforce their divisions on the Somme front, which was then the scene of a major Allied offensive. As little heavy fighting had taken place in the area since the Battle of Aubers Ridge in May 1915, the Germans had been able to strengthen their lines with concrete blockhouses, machine gun emplacements and thick barbed wire entanglements. The Bavarian troops defending Fromelles also enjoyed a slightly elevated position on the Aubers Ridge from which they could observe any preparations for an attack. The British and Australian troops who were selected for the attack had little or no experience of combat on the Western Front but would be facing a well-organised and determined enemy. This section of the front had nonetheless been chosen for a localised assault as an attack further north was not thought to be possible and although the German breastworks were well reinforced with barbed wire they were believed to be defended by a relatively small number of troops.
A key objective of the attacking troops was the capture of the Sugar Loaf salient, a small but heavily reinforced section of the German line north-west of Fromelles. The attack was originally planned for 17 July and the preliminary artillery bombardment duly began on the 16th. Thick mist and rain the following morning prompted Haking to request a 24-hour delay and the attack was postponed until 6 p.m. on the evening of 19 July.
Advancing with three brigades side by side the men of the 61st Division came under withering machine gun fire as soon as they left their positions and immediately suffered heavy casualties. Only a small number of British troops on the extreme right of the assault managed to get near the German lines, but these were all either killed or forced to retire. The Australians also attacked in three brigades. The 15th Brigade, advancing alongside British units, was badly cut up by German machine gun and artillery fire and suffered very heavy casualties. To begin with, the men of the 14th and 8th brigades fared better, managing to cross no-man's land and overrun the German front-line and communication trenches just north of Fromelles. They separated into small units as they advanced into enemy territory, however, and as night fell the Germans counter attacked the now surrounded Australians. At 3.30 a.m. they were ordered to return to their own trenches and for the next six hours they fought their way back across no-man's land.
The action turned into a bloody catastrophe - the Australians had over 5,500 killed, wounded and missing; 61st Division reported over 1,500 killed, wounded and missing out of 3,410 who took part in it. The action was broken off on the morning of 20 July.
It was the first serious engagement of the Australian forces in France. The attack at Fromelles made little impact on German troop movements toward the Somme and is now seen as a costly failure. In just over one night of fighting, over 5,300 Australian and more than 1,500 British soldiers were killed, wounded, or captured. The incident was the first major deployment of an Australian division on the Western Front and the only one in which none of the original objectives were achieved. It remains the worst day in Australian military history.
Those soldiers who fell during the battle and whose remains were recovered immediately afterwards were interred at V.C. Corner Australian Cemetery, the only uniquely Australian cemetery on the Western Front.
However, in May 2008, after several years of investigation, five mass burial pits were identified at Pheasant Wood, just north of Fromelles. The pits, which had lain undisturbed for more than 90 years, are believed to contain the remains of between 250 and 400 British and Australian soldiers, buried behind German lines after the Battle of Fromelles in July 1916.
As at July 2013, 124 of the interments have been identified.
[text modified/updated August 2013 by Geoffrey Gillon]
Mar 2013-548 to 517