The Lost Diggers of Fromelles

On Tuesday 8th May a select group of History students were immersed in a day exploring the Battle of Fromelles, one of the most important events in our country’s involvement in World War One. We were led on our journey by Lambis Englezos, who, through his tireless efforts, found the location of a mass grave at Pheasant Wood that contained the remains of many Australian soldiers buried just after the battle had taken place.

Lambis spoke at length about the battle and the many errors made by senior members of the military which resulted in the horrific loss of life. He then walked us through his discovery of the mass graves through to identification of each soldier. Joining Lambis was Patrick Lindsay, author, TV presenter and documentary maker. Patrick spoke about his involvement in the Fromelles story sharing the stage with Lambis at various stages.

Along with Patrick and Lambis was a very special guest, Josie Shelley. Josie is the granddaughter of one of the soldiers found in the mass grave at Pheasant Wood, Herbert ‘Nutsy’ Bolt. Herbert was a well known rugby league player at the time for Newtown and played with Dally Messenger in the NSW team of the day. His story has been chronicled by the NSWRL and the story of ‘Nutsy’ is legendary around the halls of rugby league headquarters.

Josie brought us all to tears while recounting the journey of her family through the identification process. This was a very emotional time for all of us as it reminded us that these men are not just statistics from history, they had families and in many cases those families are still grieving as they wait for the remains of their loved ones to be laid to rest.

Royce Atkinson from the Fromelles Association also spoke about their work in the identification process and the significance DNA plays in ensuring the remains are identified accurately. This was evident with another guest, Robert Bolt, a direct descendant of ‘Nutsy’. While Josie and her family supplied DNA to try and validate the identity of  Herbert’s remains it was Robert’s DNA that gave the authorities what they needed to get a match. The DNA of a direct male descendant is the only method of authentication.

A big thanks also to Paul Kershaw for his support and interest on the day. We look forward to more parents being involved once the project develops.