Fromelles is a village 16 kilometres west of Lille and V.C. Corner Australian Cemetery is 2 kilometres north-west of Fromelles on the road to Sailly.
On the morning of 19 July 1916, after a preliminary bombardment, the 5th Australian and 61st (South Midland) Divisions undertook what is officially known as the Attack at Fromelles. The 61st Division attack failed in the end, with the loss of over 1,500 officers and men out of 3,400 who took part in it. The Australian left and centre reached the German trenches and held their second line during the day and night, but the right was held off by a fierce machine-gun barrage and only reached the front line in isolated groups. The action was broken off on the morning of 20 July, after the 5th Australian Division had lost over 5,500 officers and men. It was the first serious engagement of the Australian forces in France, and the only one to achieve no success. V.C. Corner Cemetery was made after the Armistice. It contains the graves of 410 Australian soldiers who died in the Attack at Fromelles and whose bodies were found on the battlefield, but not a single body could be identified. It was therefore decided not to mark the individual graves, but to record on a memorial the names of all the Australian soldiers who were killed in the engagement and whose graves were not known. The memorial, designed by Sir Herbert Baker, was built to commemorate nearly 1,300 Australian casualties, however since then many have subsequently had graves identified for them (in particular as a result of the excavation of the Pheasant Wood mass grave site in 2009), so today, it is the point of commemoration for 1,100 Australian casualties.
VC Corner Cemetery is the only 'all-Australian' cemetery in France. Located on what was the forward edge if the Allied trenches at Fromelles, it contains the remains of 1181 Australians of the 5th Division killed in the calamitous attack on 19/20 July 1916.
VC Corner is so-named because of the fighting that took place there in 1914 shortly after the outbreak of war. A number of British VCs were awarded for action in the vicinity, but none are interred in the cemetery.
There are no headstones in the VC Corner cemetery. The bodies of the fallen are laid separately in two large unmarked graves topped by a rose garden. The names of the men believed to be in the cemetery are engraved on the rear wall.
The bodies were not separately identifiable at the time of their recovery immediately after the Armistice in 1918. They had lain on the field for 2 1/2 years. Their ID tags had largely been removed by comrades in the immediate aftermath of the battle, in an effort to recover the wounded and to ensure that the fate of the fallen was confirmed to families. This was done at great personal risk and many additional casualties were sustained in the process.
The bodies of the dead who were identified are buried in a number of nearby cemeteries including Rue Petillon and Rue de Bois, towards Fleurbaix, and more recently, Pheasant Wood adjacent to Fromelles. The latter was dedicated in 2010 and contains the bodies of soldiers discovered in a Mass Grave in 2008 thanks to the dedicated efforts of Melbourne school teacher Lambis Eglisios who had extensively researched the area in an effort to account for hundreds of 'missing' soldiers. The men in the Mass Grave had largely been killed behind German lines and were primarily from the 8th Brigade.
As is the case with so many war cemeteries, its contemporary serenity belies the frightful events that took place in the immediate surrounds in 1916.