Finding Australia’s missing soldiers

Story by Grace Carter, photography by Megan Fisher, SHEPPARTON NEWS

Lambis Englezos recently visited the club to deliver a presentation about his ongoing work of trying to find, recover and honour Australia’s missing soldiers from the Battle of Fromelles, which took place on July 19, 1916, during World War I in France.

“The Battle of Fromelles is the very first time Australians went to battle on the Western Front in France,” Mr Englezos said.

“It was a disastrous battle. There were more than 5500 Australian casualties and 480 prisoners.“

“But the majority of them were missing, more than 1300 were left out in no man’s land for more than two and a half to three years before their bodies could be recovered.

“My talk to the Shepparton district is about the Battle of Fromelles. There are soldiers from the Shepparton district who fought at Fromelles, and there are soldiers from the Shepparton district who are still at Fromelles.”

Mr Englezos is a retired art teacher from Melbourne. However, he is best known for discovering a mass war grave near Fromelles, at a place called Pheasant Wood.

After visiting the battlefield in 2002, he was determined to find where the missing soldiers were buried and identify as many as possible, with the help of a World War I commemorative group, Friends of the 15th Brigade.

“Those who got into and beyond the German line (on the night of the battle), which was our proposition, were taken back somewhere by the Germans and buried,” he said.

“We looked at aerial photographs for anomalies behind the German line and eventually found some. Then, we advocated that they should be sought, which was met with a lot of resistance and disbelief.

“We persisted and made our case to an expert panel in Canberra in 2005, and with press and family support, they eventually engaged Tony Pollard and his group from Glasgow University to go there in 2007 to do a non-invasive investigation of the site.

“They used clever technology, found two Australian items in that ground and decided that the ground was of interest. With the strength of the technology on those items, they went back in 2008 and confirmed the fact that the site was a burial.”


Mr Englezos said he was somewhat anxious about presenting his research and theories to an expert panel, but the 173 soldiers identified in the mass grave were worth it.

“With the confirmation (of the burial site) there was some quick relief that was overtaken by hope. Hope that these soldiers would be recovered and maybe given an identity,” he said.

“Certainly, their dignity. The dignity of an individual reburial.”

Mr Englezos said DNA identification was the primary method of finding the Australian soldiers.

“They’ve identified soldiers using artefacts, but from here on, DNA will be used as the main process for identification,” he said.

“It’s very tricky, what they’ve done with the bodies at Pheasant Wood was take a DNA sample from load-bearing bone and record the DNA strand.”

“In the end, they got viable, usable DNA from all 250 soldiers (in the mass grave). So, they have a DNA strain from each of those soldiers.”

Mr Englezos is passionate about identifying the missing soldiers, especially Lemuel Batey from Katandra, who was part of the 29th Australian Infantry Battalion and was just 21 when he was killed in action.

“That identification process will continue to the point where we hope that Batey comes up and he’s confirmed (to be buried at Pheasant Wood) — one of Shepparton’s own at the Pheasant Wood site,” he said.

“But there are multiple sites at Fromelles and elsewhere, but it’s just a belief that if you can find your war dead, you should do it.

“Some people say that it’s ancient history, but it’s not.” Mr Englezos said the ideal outcome would be for all of the soldiers in the mass grave at Pheasant Wood to be identified. However, he is aware that this is unlikely.

“Identifying one was wonderful, but 173, sensational,” he said. “Some, of course, will never be identified, but we hope we get as many as we can.

“It’s been a long journey with a wonderful result. I believe we’ve got to make every effort we can to find and recover our war dead.”


Remembering sacrifice: Shepparton RSL secretary Ted Ball, Lambis Englezos and Harry Baker from Numurkah RSL.

Private 166 Lemuel BATEY 1895-1916

Under 21 years of age when he enlisted in July 1915, Lemuel needed his mother’s consent – which she willingly gave. To provide extra gravitas, she had it witnessed by a local J.P.