Today's Honour Roll
|Name||Date of Death||Conflict|
|BLANCH, John Dudley||2 Dec 1915||World War 1|
|KAN, Alexander Elias||2 Dec 1943||World War 2|
|AARONS, Francois Emanuel||2 Dec 1942||World War 2|
|EARLE, Eugene Schuyler||2 Dec 1916||World War 1|
|COLLIER, Albert Thomas Stanley||2 Dec 1943||World War 2|
Unrecovered War Casualties Team
Unrecovered War Casualties Team
UWC-A members observe Sgt Jeff Lyon prepare to recover remains, Defence Image Gallery
As we reflect on last weekend's Rememberance Day, where we paused to remember, we think it is important to highlight the valuable and largely unsung work of the Unrecovered War Casualties Team. While many of those killed in the Great War had known graves, many others were unfortunately buried in unknown graves that have continued to be discovered in the ensuing century. The task of identifying these remains is often painstaking and takes years to complete. We salute the work of the Unrecovered War Casualties Team in helping to make sure that all those who served and suffered are honoured and remembered.
The Australian Army's Unrecovered War Casualties-Army Team, also known as UWC-A, is a dedicated group of investigators and scientists responsible for investigating any reports of human remains believed to belong to Australian soldiers. The team is also responsible for responding to information that may lead to the recovery of the remains of Australian personnel. While the unit conducts vital work, it is nowhere near as well known by the public as it should be. The work it does to account for the remains of Australian soldiers, many over a century later makes an invaluable contribution to our history and ability to remember and honour all Australian servicepeople, those who returned and those who did not.
UWC-A was founded in 2010, and has taken on investigative functions formerly performed by the Office of Australian War Graves and the Australian Army History Unit. Ultimately, the team can trace its origins to War Graves staff attached to AIF Headquarters in London during the First World War, as well as the Australian Graves Registration Unit (GRU) employed at Gallipoli and the Australian Graves Detachment (AGD) employed on the Western Front to account for the many Australians who had fallen or were temporarily buried across a variety of battlefields and other locations during the war.
Often, the remains of Australian soldiers are found during construction and road works, archaeological projects or farming activity. Each investigation of UWC-A begins with comprehensive research by their team of historical and forensic experts, including examination of data and records related to soldier service histories, areas of operation, and forces that fought in the area of interest. The records of soldiers who went missing in the area under examination are closely examined for clues. Australian Army, Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) and other records are also examined to establish if whether soldiers may be missing of were buried there.
Where soldiers are believed to have been buried or missing in a particular area, examinations may include comparison of the ground to war time mapping and photographs, as well as ground surveys. This may include the use of new technology to identify likely burial locations. When a location is positively identified, permission may be obtained from landowners and the host nation to conduct excavation and recovery operations. Each case is evaluated on its own merits, irrespective of an individual's rank or status.
The unit works collaboratively with a variety of domestic and international partners including the Australian War Memorial, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Office of Australian War Graves (OAWG) and military counterparts in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Malaysia, New Zealand, Greece and Korea amongst others.
In the process of investigation, the threshold to proceed to active field work is high, due to considerations such as the impact on local landowners and authorities; local legal, policy and approval frameworks; and the significant resources required to undertake such activities safely and properly. UWC-A will only conduct field work where a soldier or soldiers remain missing, the location of their death or burial is indicated by robust evidence and it is clear they have not formerly been recovered and may rest in a cemetery as an unknown soldier.
Investigations are typically initiated when human remains are unearthed, and there are indications that they might pertain to an Australian serviceperson. Alternatively, reports or submissions alleging the presence of unrecovered human remains belonging to Australian personnel can also prompt investigations. These inquiries, carried out by UWC-A, are conducted meticulously and can span several months, or even years, until a conclusive outcome is achieved.
With a particular focus on locations such as France, Belgium, Papua New Guinea, Korea, East Timor, Indonesia and Greece, where many Australian soldiers remain missing, UWC-A also manages the Fromelles Project, which has been responsible for the identification of 173 Australian soldiers missing from the battle and is leading the effort to give names to the remaining 77 casualties. Other work undertaken by the Australian Defence Force has included accounting for all Australian service personnel missing from the Vietnam War, efforts to account for Australians who remain missing in Korea and conducting surveys at Parit Sulong in Malaya, Tol Plantation in New Britain and Messines in Belgium to determine whether the remains of Australian soldiers were present.
In 2023, UWC-A with the support of other stakeholders, identified 5 Australian soldiers who were killed near the village of Fromelles in northern France in 1916.
These are (with links to the Virtual War Memorial Australia):
Sergeant Oscar Eric Baumann served in the 32nd Battalion of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) and hailed from Hahndorf, South Australia. Prior to his enlistment in Adelaide in July 1915, he worked as a joiner. Sadly, Sergeant Baumann lost his life in active service at the young age of 20.
Corporal William John Stephen served in the 55th Battalion of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) and was born in Balmain, New South Wales. He worked as a grocer before enlisting in Liverpool, New South Wales in July 1915. Sadly, Corporal Stephen lost his life in active service at the age of 28.
Private Richard James McGuarr was a member of the 32nd Battalion of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF), hailing from Lismore, New South Wales. Prior to enlisting in Holsworthy, New South Wales in October 1915, he worked as a dairy farmer. Tragically, Private McGuarr lost his life in active service at the age of 27.
Private Alexander Russell Robert Page, a member of the 32nd Battalion of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF), was originally from London, England. He worked as a milk carter before enlisting in Perth, Western Australia in July 1915. Sadly, Private Page lost his life in active service at the age of 28.
Private Maurice James Claxton served in the 32nd Battalion of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) and was born in St. Arnaud, Victoria. He worked as a teamster prior to enlisting in Blackboy Hill, Western Australia in July 1915. Tragically, Private Claxton lost his life in active service at the age of 24.
These soldiers are now buried in the Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery.
These five soldiers’ headstones will be rededicated at a ceremony in Fromelles on the 107th anniversary of the battle on 19 July 2023, along with the headstones of two other Fromelles soldiers.
Private Walter Allen Grace from the 31st Battalion AIF and Private Edwin Charles Gray from the 32nd Battalion AIF were identified on Remembrance Day 2022 and will also have their headstones rededicated.
In conclusion, the Australian Army's Unrecovered War Casualties team is one of the unsung parts of the Australian Army. The work that UWC-A does to investigate, locate and identify the remains of Australian servicepeople is of vital importance. To continue this over a century after many of the soldiers subject to its work went missing is a testament to the true spirit of Anzac and our commitment to honour all who served and suffered for Australia.
Lest we forget.
By Nicholas Egan
· Five World War I soldiers identified, 24 April 2023, Department of Defence, https://www.minister.defence.gov.au/media-releases/2023-04-24/five-world-war-i-soldiers-identified
· What We Do, UWC-A, Australian Army, https://www.army.gov.au/our-work/unrecovered-war-casualties/what-we-do
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