The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall today paid tribute to the last of the 250 British and Australian soldiers who were laid to rest with full military honours in Fromelles, France, after their bodies were found in mass graves in 2008.
The Prince of Wales walked behind the coffin of an unidentified soldier which was carried through the village on a First World War military wagon pulled by horses from the Kings Troop Royal Horse Artillery.
The unnamed soldier was just one out of more than 1,500 Britons and 5,000 Australians whose bodies were dumped in one of four mass graves by German soldiers.
His Royal Highness was joined by the Governor-General of Australia, Her Excellency Quentin Bryce, in the walking procession to the Commonwealth cemetery specially created to give the 250 men their last resting place.
The Duchess of Cornwall was also present in the audience, while The Prince made a speech to honour the fallen soldiers.
The speech by HRH The Prince of Wales at the Dedication of the Fromelles cemetery, France
19th July 2010:
Governor General, Monsieur le ministre, Families of those killed in action here in Fromelles, Ladies and Gentlemen.
It is a great privilege for my wife and myself to be here today to bear witness to this important and moving ceremony, as we lay to rest the last of the "Unnamed Warriors" whose remains were so recently discovered only metres away. In laying this last hero to rest, we honour them all.
Standing here, I cannot help but be taken back to that terrible day in July 1916; to a world made familiar and accessible to us and our children by the truly outstanding work of organizations like the Australian War Memorial in Canberra and Imperial War Museum in London. Ninety-four years ago in Fromelles there were no buildings, or even trees or hedges, to define and punctuate the landscape we see today – such was the intensity and ferocity of the conflict. There were not even any local people - they had all been displaced. The vast and heavily defended German position stretched out two kilometres to our North West.
In the trenches beyond the German front line and No-Mans Land, the man we have reinterred today was billeted with his brothers-in-arms – his “cobbers” - from the 5th Australian Division and the British soldiers of the 61st (South Midland) Division. I can only begin to imagine his emotions as he made the journey to the Western Front: perhaps the initial excitement of waiting for orders, the sickening anxiety preparing for battle and, as the attack began in earnest, a mix of sheer adrenaline and heart-stopping apprehension. But, somehow, he and his friends mustered the incredible courage to climb over the parapet into a hail of machinegun fire and into a field strewn with mud, barbed wire and the dead. We will never know what impact that apocalyptic scene had on them. Leon Gellert captures all this with such poignancy in his poem “Before Action,” when he says “I wondered if my packing-straps were tight, And wondered why I wondered… Sound went wild… and order came… I ran into the night, wondering why I smiled.”
The next day the full horror of what had taken place was revealed. More than 5,500 Australian soldiers and 1,500 British soldiers were killed, wounded or missing. Under orders, German soldiers moved the body of this man and his cobbers to Pheasant Wood where they were buried.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am profoundly humbled by the outstanding bravery of these men who fought so valiantly in the indescribable mud and carnage, many thousands of miles from their families and from their homes. Today we honour and commemorate these young soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice so that we might live in peace and so that our children and grandchildren might learn the lessons from both devastating world conflicts.
We dedicate this cemetery in grateful memory of all those in the Land Forces of the Commonwealth who died in the cause of freedom, particularly those who fought and died during the Battle of Fromelles and the 250 soldiers whom we remember especially today.
May we ever be mindful of them and their comrades in arms of all Services and be guided by their example of loyalty, service and selflessness.
Emotion et recueillement à Fromelles
La foule était silencieuse, encore sous l'émotion de ces lettres de soldats qui venaient d'être lues, quand le prince Charles a pénétré, hier à 12 h 40, dans le nouveau cimetière de Fromelles, au son des tambours et des fifres.