The remains of a Maitland World War I Digger buried in a mass grave in northern France have been identified by DNA.
It has been revealed that Private John Cyril Wynn – originally from Largs – is one of nine Australian Diggers among the 250 Australian and British WWI soldiers recovered from Pheasant Wood, France, in 2009.
The remains of Newcastle man Private Claude Ward have also been identified.
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Private Wynn was 19 when he left Maitland to go to war. He died in the Battle of Fromelles on July 20, 1916.
“We are thrilled to bits with this news because it means he has earned his place in history and he has a final resting place . . . it’s marvellous news,” Pte Wynn’s great niece Bernadette Seysener, of Raymond Terrace, said.
“John was only 19 when he arrived in France and a month later he was dead. His brother Darcy was also killed in France ... his body hasn’t been recovered.”
The Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, Warren Snowdon, said the latest identification project has ensured the newly identified soldiers will be known by name where they lie in Fromelles.
“Australia will always pay tribute to our fallen sons, from those dark days of the First World War,” Mr Snowdon said.
A further 92 Australians remain unidentified, along with two unidentified British soldiers and another 37 whose graves are marked as “Unidentified Soldier of the Great War”.
“We are determined to identify as many of these brave Australians as possible,” Mr Snowdon said. “It is important that we are able to identify these soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice and to assist in giving closure to their families.”
Hunter military historian David Dial said 11 Hunter Valley soldiers have now been identified by DNA matching during the past few years.
“I am hopeful that the remains of the other Hunter men who were buried by the Germans in the mass graves at Pheasant Wood in 1916 will be identified in the next two years,” he said.
The Battle of Fromelles is recognised as one of the worst days in Australia’s military history and was the first major battle fought by the Australian Infantry Force in France.
The 5th Australian division suffered over 5500 casualties (dead and wounded) and many of those killed remain unaccounted for, almost a century after the battle.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission will erect new headstones with the identified men’s details and they will be dedicated on July 20 this year during the annual commemoration of the Battle of Fromelles.