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Fromelles - and beyond

The media spotlight has been on what was a tragic day for Australian soldiers in World War One - the Western Front battle at Fromelles in France in July, 1916.

The dedicated efforts to find the remains of Diggers who died there and were buried in a mass grave by the Germans has focussed attention on what a disastrous combat for both Australian and British forces.

But the question arises - were Tasmanian troops killed that July 19 in what was Australia's first major action on the Western Front? Given Tasmania's strong presence in the war, it's a reasonable assumption some were.

Discovery of the mass grave at Pheasant Wood on Fromelles outskirts holding the remains of 170 Diggers has highlighted a terrible loss. The fighting, regarded as the worst 24 hours in Australia's history, saw 5,533 Australian casualties, including 1,700 dead, when they were sent in against the guns of strongly entrenched German forces occupying strategic higher ground.

Now there is the painstaking, sad task of attempting to identify the Pheasant Wood victims and then their reburial in individual graves.

A search of the Australian War Memorial records in Canberra of the 101 Holy Trinity parishioners who died in the war does not show any who were at Fromelles that fateful day - but there were many who were killed soon after, and in following weeks. They included those who have no known graves.

Pozieres was the place where many of them fell.

On July 22, Sapper Victor Capstick, aged 27, was killed in action there, and on July 29, Private Victor Tasman Lisson, 26, was fatally wounded when hit by machine-gun fire during a charge. Both had no known grave.

This battlefield area took a heavy toll on Holy Trinity's servicemen.

August 4 saw Sapper Albert Lighten, 32, killed, on the same day that Private John Theodore Owen, 20, was fatally wounded. A fellow Tasmanian soldier reported that Owen was killed by the same shell that hit him during a heavy barrage. Owen was yet another with no known grave; it was believed the shell had buried him.

Also of "no known grave" was Private Harcourt Adams, 26, fatally wounded by a shell on the frontline on August 9. August 10 saw the death of Private John Thomas Warren, 23, from wounds (his brother, Private Alfred Warren, 20, was to die during an attack on a village near Borches in April the next year and was said to have been buried at Bullecourt).

August 13, Private Archibald Darling Gould, 19, was killed in action (at Albert); August 14, Lance-Corporal John Alexander Hall, 25 (at Pozieres) - he had survived Gallipoli; August 19, Private Frank Kent Newbold ( but known as Frank Kent), 20 (at Mouquet Farm).

Between August 19 and 22 saw the loss of Private Gordon Frederick Williamson, 18, and Private Cyril Ralph Finch, 19; August 22, Private William Young Taylor, 20; August 25, Private Herbert Edwards, 20, reported to be at MacRae's Trench, Pozieres, although a witness said he saw him killed instantly with another five soldiers there on August 20 when a shell exploded amidst the group.

The next month claimed other Holy Trinity lives - two on September 3, Private Charles Arthur Woodleigh, 20, and Private Benjamin Anderson, also 20. The latter was killed in the action at Mouquet Farm, a place of double family tragedy for the next day it was his brother, Private Robert James Bertram (Bert) Anderson, 28, killed there. On September 13 the war claimed the life of Private Robert Stanley Thorpe, 21.

Young men, all dead with a few weeks of each other. But their sacrifices are forever remembered in the Diggers' Memorial Window of Holy Trinity.

The story of losses at Pozieres should not be left without recording that of one who survived the July horror there, was honoured for his bravery, only to die later.

Lance-Corporal Norman Wilfred Allison, 24, a member of the Medical Corps, won the Military Medal at Pozieres on July 20, through attending the wounded - his own men and others - under very heavy shelling, only resting when he was thoroughly exhausted.

He was seriously wounded during a battle at Bullecourt, on the main section of the Hindenburg Line of the Germans. The records said his death in England on February 3, 1918, came some months after he was wounded, and he was buried in a military cemetery in Surrey.

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