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A new generation of remembrance

  • 10 November 2016


It's 9pm but the setting sun shows no sign of repose as it beams down across the vast wheat fields of Fromelles. The line between land and sky blurs as yellowing crops align with the sun's reach. On the other side of no man's land, a pale moon is just visible. Straight ahead a rough path through the wheat leads to the German lines.

It's down this path to the once formidable German strongpoint of the Sugarloaf that I file with the Friends of the 15th Brigade, descendants of the soldiers who fought here 100 years ago in the 59th and 60th AIF battalions.  

This pocket of Northern France on the World War I Western Front is a place of stories, both old and new.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission's newest cemetery, Pheasant Wood, holds the graves of 250 soldiers, some identified and others 'known unto God'. All were considered missing until 2008 when Melburnian and amateur historian Lambis Englezos discovered a German mass grave of Allied soldiers and fought for its large-scale exhumation.

Since then, soldiers continue to be identified through DNA testing and are given proper military burials, with six new headstones unveiled during the July 2016 centenary commemorations of the Battle of Fromelles.

Friends of the 15th member and Melburnian Marilyn Fordred, with her brother Graeme, is 'on a quest' to locate the spot where her great-uncle, Fred Steward, was killed. She's confronting an unresolved question that haunts her in the same way it haunted her grandmother nearly 100 years ago.

Steward was a member of the 60th Battalion after enlisting with seven mates from Fitzroy, Vic., in August 1915. He arrived in France in June 1916 before being killed weeks later at Fromelles.

'When I was 13 my mum told me [Steward] went down in a bog in the Layes Brook canal and his whole battalion died. Mum and Granny never wavered,' Fordred says. 'But we started researching and found out that the night was dry, that the canal was small and his battalion didn't have to cross it. Everything pointed to their story being wrong.'


"As a 20 year old with no personal connection to war, the broad brushstroke of losing 'a generation of men' is hard to comprehend. But walking the battlefield with Fordred and absorbing just one family's pain makes me realise how loss transcends generations."


Visiting Fromelles allowed Fordred, with the help of the Friends of the 15th tour leader