By the end of World War I, 45,000 Australians had died on the Western Front. Some bodies had been hastily buried mid-battle in massed graves; others were mutilated beyond recognition. Often men were simply listed as ‘Missing in Action’ because nobody knew for sure.
Imagine being home in Australia in a world before mobile phones, the internet, social media, and even commercial air travel waiting for news of your loved one who had been listed as ‘Missing in Action’. Wondering where they could be, hoping they were alive somewhere until you got news telling you otherwise.
I think that is why the stories in this book of the poor leadership, mismanagement of both staff and money, and allegations of hoaxes relating to bodies, is so frustrating and sad.
The story of Lieutenant Robert Burns who was one of those missing and his father’s quest to find his body and have answers about what happened to his son depicted the ordeal families of the missing went through. To find that his body was finally uncovered in a mass grave in Fromelles at Pheasant Wood 91 years after his father had started searching for his body is sad enough. To read that the information about this mass grave was provided to the Australian Grave Services (AGS) by the Germans and that information was never acted upon due to the flawed personalities of some of the men of the AGS leaves me absolutely astounded.
This is well worth a read if only to remind ourselves to never let this happen again.
- Nicole Thompson, City of Wanneroo Library
“Missing in Action” is written by Marianne Van Velzen and published by Allen & Unwin Books.