The British Expeditionary Force decided to launch another small attack north of the Somme, three weeks after the Battle of the Somme had begun in the aim of discouraging the Germans from withdrawing troops from this area and sending them south to the Somme.
The British 61st Division and the Australian 5th Division, were thus given the task of capturing the first and second lines of German trenches on a 4500 metre front at Fromelles.
After a preliminary bombardment, the attack began at 6pm on 19th July 1916. The British captured 400 metres of German trench and the Australians reached the second line on a one kilometre front. Casualties, however, were high and many men had been shot or were trapped in No Man's Land.
The Germans counter-attacked throughout the night and by early morning the Allies were ordered to retreat.
The strategic objective of Fromelles had been achieved as the Germans, fearing another attack on the Fromelles front, waited several weeks before sending additional troops to the Somme. The Germans lost 2000 casualties and the Allies suffered 7000 killed and wounded. Five and a half thousand of these were Australians, making 19th July 1916 the worst day in Australian military history.
Pheasant Wood Military Cemetery
In 2009 the remains of 250 Australian and British soldiers were carefully exhumed from a mass grave created by the Germans after the Battle of Fromelles in July 1916. This burial site had been missed when military war graves units searched these battlefields in the aftermath of the war. A year later these men were reburied in a newly created cemetery called Pheasant Wood Military Cemetery, in the centre of Fromelles. Of the 250 men, 149 have been officially identified.
V.C. Corner Cemetery was made after the Armistice and contains the graves of 410 unidentified Australian soldiers who died in the attack at Fromelles. The individual graves are not marked, but a memorial commemorates all the Australian soldiers who were killed at Fromelles and who have no known grave. The memorial, designed by Sir Herbert Baker, is inscribed with nearly 1,300 names.
Australian Memorial Park
On the former battlefield of Fromelles stands the Australian Memorial Park, with its statue of an Australian soldier. This statue, called ‘Cobbers’, shows Sergeant Simon Fraser carrying a wounded man on his back. Fraser had described rescuing two men from the battlefield: ‘Then another man about 30 yards out sang out, “Don’t forget me, cobber”. I went in and got four volunteers with stretchers, and we got both men in safely’.