WW1 soldiers ready for reburial

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The massive task of reburying 250 Australian and British World War I soldiers found in a mass grave in northern France will begin in late January.

The soldiers' bodies were unearthed from the series of unmarked pits on the outskirts of the village of Fromelles by a team of archaeologists in late 2009.

Their remains laid undiscovered until an amateur historian from Melbourne tracked down their mystery resting place, paving the way for their bodies to be recovered.

While DNA tests are being carried out to try and determine the identities of as many of the soldiers as possible, their remains will start being reinterred at a new military cemetery being built in Fromelles on January 30.

Just one of the soldiers is expected to buried on the day in an official ceremony expected to be attended by Australian, British and French government officials and much of the townsfolk of Fromelles.

The gradual process of burying the rest of the soldiers will begin in February, with each one to be reinterred with full military honours.

The final soldier will be reinterred during the cemetery's official opening on July 19 - the 94th anniversary of the notorious Battle of Fromelles when the men lost their lives.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission spokesman Pete Francis said large crowds were expected to attend the first reburial.

"We're holding it on a Saturday so as many people from the village as possible can attend," he said.

"We're hoping the entire village will be there.

"We've also had a number of phone calls from members of the public, mainly from the UK and some from Australia, asking if it's a public event and if they can come.

"So it should be quite a crowd."

The archaeological team spent four months delicately removing the bodies and 1,200 artefacts found with them including badges, boots and pieces of army-issue uniforms.

The soldiers were buried by German troops after the Battle of Fromelles, when Australian forces suffered 5,533 casualties in just 24 hours - the country's heaviest military casualty rate.

Britain recorded 1,547 soldiers killed, wounded or missing.

Initially, it was believed the mass grave site could contain about 400 bodies.

But a careful excavation of the eight pits dug by German soldiers revealed the remains of 250 troops, most of whom are believed to be Australian.

DNA samples have been taken from each of the bodies in the hope that some of the soldiers can be identified.

The whereabouts of the mass grave was officially confirmed in May 2008 after years of research by Melbourne amateur historian Lambis Englezos who pinpointed the exact location alongside Pheasant Wood, on Fromelles' outskirts.

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