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Despite nearly a century passing, more Australian remains are being found on the battlefields of the Western Front. Here is an article that was written by Bridie Smith and published in the Canberra Times, Saturday, 27 August 2011
:Australians in the Trenches at Bullecourt
More fallen diggers found at Bullecourt
They were buried where they lay. Not in mass graves prepared by the Germans, but in haste, by fellow diggers who pushed dirt in on top of the crater where their dead companions had been taking shelter, and then fled. And there they are believed to remain, up to 13 Australian soldiers, interred in a nameless pit beneath a road in northern France.
The recent discovery of the World War I burial site, near the town of Bullecourt, is the result of three years' research by the team behind the 2009 unearthing of a mass grave of 250 Allied soldiers in Fromelles, 60km to the north, which has so far resulted in the recovery and reburial of all the men, with 110 Australians so far identified by name.
Now researchers and relatives hope that the find, which is outlined in a detailed report sent to Defence almost a year ago, will result in similar treatment for the group of Bullecourt dead.
News of the find comes as the Federal Government beds down its plans for a Western Front remembrance trail to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War in 2014, which will include the village of Bullecourt, where about 10,000 Australians died in 1917.
Report author and lead investigator Tim Whitford said that after studying the action and archival material, there was a compelling case that between 10 and 13 soldiers remained in a former shell crater under the main road to the village of Longatte. ''All the available evidence suggests that they are still in situ,'' he said.
He has urged Defence to investigate the site with urgency before the 2014 centenary and launch of the Western Front remembrance trail - to which the Australian Government is contributing $10 million - generates a spike in visitor numbers. ''We want to know for sure that these men won't be driven over the top of,'' he said.
''The idea of a remembrance trail is a beautiful idea but to allow the subjects of that remembrance to remain under a road would not bode well for the sentiment behind that trail.''
Using archival data including aerial photographs, contemporary trench maps, eyewitness accounts and graves recovery unit logs, Mr Whitford and amateur historians Glen Phillips and Lambis Englezos built a picture of what had happened to the soldiers of the 21st Battalion as they pursued the retreating Germans on the Somme in the spring of 1917.
Unaware that the retreat was a strategic withdrawal designed by the Germans to shorten their defensive lines at a time when manpower was at a premium, the Australians gave chase. In the dark pre-dawn hours of March 20, 1917, two advance parties made their way towards the village of Noreuil. ''They were going to envelop the village,'' Mr Whitford said.
''However, it appears that they turned too early and were caught by German machine guns initially and later by German artillery.''
As day broke, some soldiers took cover in a large crater on the Vaulx Vraucourt-Ecoust Road, which was soon shelled, killing many.
Of the 38 soldiers from the 21st Battalion known to have been killed in action in the area on March 20, 1917, just one has a known grave.
Among those unaccounted for is Private Walter Dickinson, a labourer from Tooborac, Victoria. Private Dickinson's Australian Red Cross wounded and missing file contains four accounts of his death and burial in a crater on the road to Longatte.
Carlton-born Private Albert Dobbie recalled Private Dickinson sitting in the crater on the Longatte road about to eat his rations when a ''whizz-bang exploded in the shell hole'' killing him instantly. ''He was buried in the shell hole he died in,'' Private Dobbie reported.
Private George Norwood from Collingwood, who was wounded by the same shell, estimated there were 12 others killed by it.
Private Dickinson's family still call Tooborac home. His great-great-niece Hayley Tobin said the site should be investigated to establish if the soldiers were still there.
Her father John Dickinson, who lives at the same property his great uncle Walter called home, said his father talked about Walter briefly returning home wounded.
''Before Walter went back he told his father that he didn't think he would be coming home again. He must have had some sort of premonition and he knew that things were pretty rough over there,'' Mr Dickinson, 60, said. ''We always thought he was buried in France because his name was on the memorial and we thought that was the spot ... But now we might find out what actually happened to him.''
Eyewitness accounts point to other soldiers being near the crater, including Private Albert Henry Whitford, a labourer from Victoria, who is Mr Whitford's great uncle.
''He was killed on March 20, 1917, near Longatte and buried on the right-hand side of the road close to a big crater. There are a number of graves there,'' Private Thomas Paterson of Darriman reported.
The report urges Defence to investigate the site to see if the area has undergone significant change since 1917. But Mr Whitford said his own search of grave recovery unit archives suggests no graves have been disturbed in the area. ''They've not gone within hundreds of metres of that spot,'' he said.
The army's manager of unrecovered war casualties Brian Manns, who received the report last November, confirmed to Fairfax an investigation was under way to establish the veracity of the case.
Australian War Memorial senior historian Peter Burness said locating unknown graves required meticulous research. ''You really have to make sure that you have your evidence in place, as was the case with Fromelles,'' he said.
''But if you're asking could any have been missed then yes, of course that is possible.''
The Longatte case is set to test the precedent set with the Fromelles soldiers. ''They made the commitment with Fromelles and now let's see where it takes us,'' Mr Whitford said. ''I hope this is the first of many ... that this case takes it from a stand-alone project ... to something that is ongoing.''
There are still more Australians out there but finding them will become harder and harder. But we will find them.