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Honouring the Battle of Fromelles in Broadford

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Jordyn Grubisic
Jordyn Grubisic
Jordyn Grubisic is a senior journalist for the North Central Review primarily covering politics at all levels and sport with a particular interest in basketball. Since 2019 she has worked for several publications across Victoria including most recently at the Alexandra Standard and Yea Chronicle. She is always keen to hear from local community members about issues they face and has an interest in crime and court reporting.

The Broadford Returned Services League, RSL, invite all to the unveiling of a Battle of Fromelles Memorial Mosaic Wall in Broadford at 11am on Saturday.

The mosaic, at Memorial Park opposite Broadford Post Office, was designed by artist Donna Meyer and largely organised by Broadford RSL’s former secretary Peter Coutts and vice president Tim Whitford.  

It features two sides representing the battle. One side includes a rising sun symbolising the Australian Army and hope at the end of the war, a mother praying, soldiers disappearing into battle, poppies and cornflowers – the French symbol of remembrance.

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The other side shows images including silhouettes of the modern Fromelles village, figures representing memories, Brigadier Tivey, colour patches of the main units at Fromelles, headstones and the DNA symbol.

The ‘rebuild’ side of the mosaic piece, featuring a mother praying, soldiers disappearing into battle, poppies and cornflowers – the French symbol of remembrance.

“It’s in hardstone like a headstone – something a lot of the soldiers never got. We hope that one day the families will see this as a place outside of France to come and visit to spend a moment thinking about the horrible battle,” Mr Whitford said.

“As far as we know there’s no town that has a specific memorial to this battle and it should be marked. That’s where the idea was born.”

Broadford is connected to the battle through Brigadier Tivey conducting the final peacetime training camp at Fromelles.

“His whole unit was utterly destroyed in the battle and it destroyed him,” Mr Whitford said.

“There wasn’t a family anywhere in this country that wasn’t affected, no towns certainly, and so we thought what a great place to put a memorial to this battle.”

The Battle of Fromelles, on July 19 and 20, 1916, had more than 5500 Australian casualties – almost 2000 were killed and about 400 captured.

It is believed to be the greatest loss by a single division in 24 hours during the First World War.

“It left a scar in Australia. It was not a famous battle but it was never forgotten in the loungerooms of these families,” Mr Whitford said.

In 2006, Mr Whitford and three others began uncovering remains of 250 Australian soldiers in six mass burial pits in Fromelles – the biggest non-genocide mass graves in western Europe in 100 years.

They theorised Germans cleaned up the battlefield.

“Through a lot of detective work, we found a likely location for a mass burial site and we took that to the Australian Army. We were met with a lot of scepticism and resistance, so we took it to the media,” he said.

The men featured on television current affair programs such as 60 Minutes and The 7.30 Report, while author Patrick Lindsay wrote a book on their story.

Following public support, the Federal Government conducted a non-invasive survey of the site in 2007 and found two artefacts including a good luck medallion belonging to Mr Whitford’s uncle.

The group advocated for a new cemetery and DNA testing to match soldiers to their families – all had viable DNA and 166 out of 255 were identified.

The Broadford RSL was approached by Ms Meyer after she heard Mr Whitford’s story.

“We started raising funds for it slowly but surely and there seemed to be a big groundswell of support for it from the community and the shire,” Mr Whitford said.

“We got sponsorship from the Bendigo Bank and Victorian Government. We also raised our own funds so it’s been a project that’s brought a lot of people together.

“It’s been a long time coming but it took us 96 years to find the missing of Fromelles so a little bit late to the party is better than not at all.”

The unveiling will be followed by Mr Whitford and Mr Lindsay presenting the story of finding the missing soldiers with an audio-visual presentation, nibblies and some drinks at Broadford RSL at 1.30pm.

Presentation tickets are $20 with funds going to the RSL.

“The unveiling is free but we’re only a tiny little RSL subbranch, so we need to raise the funds to look after the young veterans,” Mr Whitford said.

“Our RSL is a bit of a haven for them and we want to raise funds so that we can continue to do that, like our breakfast every month to facilitate community connection.”

To purchase tickets email broadfordrsl@gmail.com or call Broadford RSL president James Evans on 0417 938 241.

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