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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fitting Tribute and Interesting Read, 6 Oct 2010
This review is from: Remembering Fromelles: A New Cemetery for a New Century (Paperback)
This nice little softback (96 pages) is well written, very nicely designed, and well illustrated in both new colour and period black and white photos. Though the text is relatively brief it contains useful sections on the history of Commonwealth War Graves and the Western Front; the circumstances of the battle; the archaeology; the finds; identification and DNA: and the new Fromelles (i.e. Pheasant Wood) cemetery; the funerals and a handful of the families involved. Though the cover lists Julie Summers as 'compiler' there are in fact several authors as different specialists actually wrote different sections within the piece. Arguably the 'star turn' is the well known Professor Margaret Cox, also author of the Cambridge University volume The 'Scientific Excavation of Mass Graves' (2008). This is a fascinating read which will probably leave you wanting to find out more - highly recommended.

The elephant in the room not really addressed is why, and why now ? There are still many thousands of unidentified remains on the Western Front, and it is quite usual for battlefield archaeologists to come up with bodies or fragments whether their digs are purely for research interest, or for reason of new buildings. The presumption in most places, as in general in the UK, is that where archaeology is not in danger of destruction it will be left where it is. True there are still families who would like to know about the fate and remains of those killed at Pheasant Wood, but equally there are many 'known to God' elsewhere, and mass graves aplenty that are marked - but with many of the occupants unidentified. Deliberately exhuming, attempting attentification, then ceremonially reburying them again does not seem to have crossed anybody's mind. Despite media hype there is no overarching national or international project to 'find the missing' - and the presumption that has pertained since the 1920s is that the memorials to the missing fulfill an adequate role.

The recent events at Pheasant Wood could perhaps be interpreted as part of the cult of the Australian warrior, or an extension of the Gallipoli story as part of promotion of national identidy. They also happen to be a very handy dipolomatic peg for a display of modern friendship and respect between Australia, Britian and France. Yet far more certainly the Fromelles project marks a moment in the passage of history - for we are now in a time without survivors, a time at which WW1 comes of age as 'history'. To a large extent the dead of Pheasant Wood are the new 'silent' witnesses.
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