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DNA experts to trace First World War dead in France

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Postby rath » Mon Jul 06, 2009 10:48 am

Jul 6, 2009

A stamp licked by a British soldier now lying in a mass grave in northern France could be enough to identify his remains 90 years after he fell in battle.


Armed with the latest forensic techniques used in modern murder investigations, DNA experts are to try to match around 400 soldiers' remains to their genetic signatures.

A team of British-based experts has just been chosen to attempt to unravel one of the largest-scale genetic conundrums ever They hope to obtain DNA profiles from bodies that have lain underground for nearly a century on a scale never previously attempted.


The soldiers were buried in woodland shortly after the Battle of Fromelles of July 16, 1916, which was part of the Somme campaign. At Fromelles, 5,553 Australian and 1,547 British soldiers were mown down by German guns in a catastrophically planned offensive considered the worst 24 hours in Australian military history.

German forces placed them - without their dog tags - in pits in a site known as Pheasant Wood near the village of Fromelles.

A team of British-based forensic archaeologists and DNA experts will now try to identify samples of teeth, small bones, hair and even soft tissue and then match these to soldiers' family members or even to objects the dead men touched in their lifetime.

"If DNA is preserved in a dry state it can go back to dinosaurs and mammoths," said Dr Paul Debenham, a DNA expert with LGC Forensics, the group chosen to conduct the tests.

"So testing for DNA on the back of a stamp a soldier licked, between the stamp paper and a postcard, would certainly be worth a try if the card was stored in a dry place like the back of a desk. It's definitely a feasible approach. Even a trophy they handled might do," he said.

While such objects could prove helpful, the bulk of the detective work will be done by matching the soldiers' DNA to that of relatives – even distant ones. The Y chromosome can be tracked through the paternal lineage, while the mother's mitochondria – tiny DNA elements found in all cells – are present in soldiers' siblings and right down the female line.

Some 15 samples from soldiers' remains have so far been collected in a pilot project, taken from different pits of varying soil conditions. These were placed in evidence bags, signed, sealed and sent back to London. "The pilot will indicate how valuable DNA tests will be or whether sadly the passage of time and soil types have worked against us," said Dr Debenham.

"Then it will be down to relatives coming forward."

Anyone who believes a family member might be among the dead is being asked to come forward and provide DNA from a simple mouth swab for identification.

The British and Australian governments have already published the names of soldiers they believe may be buried at the site on a dedicated website: www.fromelles.net

A new military cemetery, to be completed next year, will be built next to the mass grave on land donated by the owner. There will four types of graves: named; unknown British; unknown Australian and simply unknown.

It will be the first created by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission since the end of the Second World War.




Jul 6, 2009


Somebody's father, somebody's son? An Australian Rising Sun badge was unearthed from the Fromelles grave in France

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says the Government will make "doubly certain" that the exhumation of Australian soldiers in France is being handled properly, following reports it is in disarray.


Fairfax newspapers say the project to exhume, identify and rebury hundreds of soldiers killed on the French battlefield of Fromelles in World War I is in trouble because the Defence Department has employed a "cut-price" contractor.

The report says that the dig has been interrupted by poor drainage following heavy storms, and hand-sieving of soil from soldier's graves for personal effects has been abandoned because of funding constraints.

This morning Mr Rudd said Government officials had told him that precautions are being taken to ensure the diggers' remains are being treated with respect.

"We'll now make doubly certain of that in the case of this particular sensitive matter," he said.

"Every Australian who has lost their lives in service of our country must be treated, should be treated, with absolute respect."

Work began in early May to recover the remains of around 400 British and Australian soldiers who were buried in mass graves at the Pheasant Wood site of the Fromelles battlefield in northern France.

The July 1916 fighting was the first major battle to involve Australian soldiers on the Western Front, and resulted in heavy losses for the allies.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission says it expects work on the site to take six months.

The remains of the soldiers are to be buried at a new grave site at Pheasant Wood.
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Postby greeney2 » Mon Jul 06, 2009 1:58 pm

Waste of money since 90 years ago, nobody is alive today, that could possibly remember them, or care much if identified.
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Postby rath » Mon Jul 06, 2009 11:41 pm

greeney2 wrote:Waste of money since 90 years ago, nobody is alive today, that could possibly remember them, or care much if identified.



That is so sad of you Greeney.

I did not know you were that lonely & bitter.

greeney2 wrote:Waste of money since 90 years ago, nobody is alive today, that could possibly remember them, or care much if identified.



I care as do manny others.
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Postby Tairaa » Wed Jul 08, 2009 1:30 pm

You care about the last name?

I don't care about the name, it's all the same. They where all men who died fighting, their names wouldn't change anything as far as I'm concerned.
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Postby Dark-Samus » Thu Jul 09, 2009 3:05 am

Waste of money since 90 years ago, nobody is alive today, that could possibly remember them, or care much if identified.


If the body was to be an american general then would you care then? :roll:
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Postby Lashmar » Thu Jul 09, 2009 3:17 am

greeney2 wrote:Waste of money since 90 years ago, nobody is alive today, that could possibly remember them, or care much if identified.


Just because the US didn’t fight in it. Joining for the last few months means you’re opinion is invalid so please F*** off. I will defend the men who fought in that war from here to hell and back. If it wasn’t for them fighting in that hellhole that Europe became the world would be completely different now shut up and be respectful of them. :x

You’d care if this was about the second world war though wouldn’t you.


I care as do manny others.


Aye same here.


If the body was to be an american general then would you care then?


But he’d be an American then so it would be alright. Yanks are better than the rest when it comes to things like this. If it were a yank who fought in Vietnam then the world would have to stop while the results came in.

Wait that’s only because someone might be alive and someone might care enough about a war that had NO real impact on the world. :roll:
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Postby Wing-Zero » Thu Jul 09, 2009 3:52 am

Lashmar wrote:If it wasn’t for them fighting in that hellhole that Europe became the world would be completely different now shut up and be respectful of them. :x


Unless they're "yanks", eh buddy?


I care as do manny others.


Seconded.





Edited for spelling.
Last edited by Wing-Zero on Thu Jul 09, 2009 4:11 am, edited 1 time in total.
War is an extension of economics and diplomacy through other means.

Economics and diplomacy are methods of securing resources used by humans.

Securing resources is the one necessary behavior for all living things.

War = Life
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Postby Lashmar » Thu Jul 09, 2009 4:10 am

Wing-Zero wrote:Unless their "yanks", eh buddy?


You have to be in the war from the start on near the start to be in the war. You just came out for a picnic, not the best picnic it must be said.

It just annoys me when an American starts to talk about the Great War. :x


I will defend the men who fought in that war from here to hell and back.


All men. Germans, Yanks, Turks. All of them. They shouldn’t be forgotten and G2’s comment about it being a waste of money really got me going.



Edit: How do you say it?

We never leave a man behind.

By forgetting them you’re doing something much worse than leaving them behind. :x :roll:
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Postby Wing-Zero » Thu Jul 09, 2009 4:15 am

Fine. I was just making a point that even though we showed up when the fight was pretty much dissolved, that the boys we sent over there that didn't make it back still had SOME place in that memory of yours.
War is an extension of economics and diplomacy through other means.

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Postby Lashmar » Thu Jul 09, 2009 4:28 am

Wing-Zero wrote:Fine. I was just making a point that even though we showed up when the fight was pretty much dissolved, that the boys we sent over there that didn't make it back still had SOME place in that memory of yours.


There was a battle that the US fought with the French that had 2000 craters inside a square mind. I even respect the French from the Great War.

I’m like most people, I remember the fallen from all sides because they didn’t start it and they were just following orders. It’s very sad really. :(
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