Pheasant Wood cemetery is the newest Commonwealth War Grave Commission Cemetery on the Western Front having been dedicated in 2010. It was built specifically to accommodate the remains of soldiers exhumed from a nearby Mass Grave that had lain undetected for 92 years. That it was located at all was entirely due to the tireless efforts of Melbourne schoolteacher Lambis Eglezos who had undertaken extensive research to try and account for hundreds of soldiers "missing" after the battle of Fromelles on 19/20 July 1916.
Most of the soldiers in the Pheasant Wood Mass Grave were killed behind German lines. Many were from the Australian 8th Brigade, which was on the left flank of the 5th Division frontage in the attack and had penetrated farthest into the German position at Fromelles. However, their success was short-lived, having found themselves in a classic tactical conundrum of over extending and getting cut off. They were outflanked by neighbouring enemy positions and then were subject to enfilade fire and local counter attack and eventual defeat in detail. While some fought their way back to friendly lines, many were either killed or captured.
The remains of most of those killed in 'No Man's Land' from the 14th and 15th Brigades remained on the battlefield until the Armistice. They were gathered up and interred in the nearby VC Corner Cemetery adjacent to the battlefield, with others in the Rue Petillon or Rue de Bois sites behind what were the Australian lines. Few of the soldiers whose remains were left on the field were identifiable as in many cases their ID disks had been removed by colleagues in the process of recovering the wounded in the immediate aftermath of the battle, while under fire. That is the main reason they are in a common grave at VC Corner Cemetery, the name of which relates to a battle earlier in the war.
Many of those stranded behind German lines, mainly on the left flank of the attack, were subject to an unconfirmed fate. In reality many had been killed and htheir remains gathered up and buried by the Germans in a Mass Grave at Pheasant Wood.
After their discovery in 2008, the remains were subject to forensic anaylis using DNA and related trechnologies. Many have been identified, although the process is complicated by virtue of the fact that a female descendant is required to establish a familial match. Given most of the victims were young single men, with no desendants, this proved to be more difficult than might otherwise be imagined.
The nearby area contains many sites of interest, and a museum is established adjacent to the Pheasant Wood site.
Steve Larkins 2015
VWM founder Steve commanded the 10th /27th Battalion Honour Guard that officiated at the opening of the nearby Fromelles Memorial Park in 1998 and retains a close interest in the history and related sites in the area, and periodically escorts Battlefield Tour groups to this and other sites.