DNA tests to identify British, Australian WWI soldiers
Experts will conduct DNA tests on the remains of up to 300 British and Australian WWI soldiers in northeastern France.London – Experts will this week begin conducting DNA tests on the remains of up to 300 British and Australian World War I soldiers discovered in northeastern France, the British Ministry of Defence said on Monday.
The tests on remains unearthed at the site of the 1916 Battle of Fromelles, near the city of Lille, will constitute "the largest undertaking to identify individuals killed in combat ever commissioned," it said.
In a joint announcement with his Australian counterpart Greg Combet, British defence minister Kevan Jones said the aim was to identify soldiers so that they can be "laid to rest with the dignity they deserve."
"This is an important step forward in the process of trying to identify the World War I soldiers buried at Fromelles," he said, while Combet said the soldiers' remains would be reburied with full military honours.
The remains were found during excavation work in May 2008. It is believed that 250 to 300 Australian and British soldiers were buried there by German forces after the Battle of Fromelles.
The 1916 clash was the first major battle on the Western Front to involve both British and Australian troops. In all some 1,547 British troops and 5,533 Australians were either killed, wounded, taken prisoner or reported missing.
The decision to carry out full-scale DNA testing came after a pilot study on teeth and bones of the remains, which confirmed the quality and quantity of indicated that there was enough material.
A full archaeological excavation is expected to be over by October, and an identification board will meet in March 2010 to consider the available evidence that may lead to the identification of individual soldiers.
"It is a great result that viable DNA has been obtained," said Combet.
"The delicate condition of the remains, the soil surrounding them and high water table have made the experts’ job extremely difficult. Every one of these men will be given a dignified burial with full military honours.
"Putting names on their headstones is an additional benefit," he added.
AFP / Expatica