In Australian military history, the battle at Fromelles, in northern France, on 19 July 1916 was particularly murderous. Before the end of that deadly day, 5,500 Australians were either killed, missing or wounded. In 2008, mass graves of several hundred Australian and British soldiers were discovered here. A few weeks ago, a project was initiated, aimed at excavating the remains and reburying them at an official site.
The following photos are by Michel Spingler (AP Photo). The first one shows French veterans of a later war waiting for the mechanical shovel to get into action, with green tarpaulins separating the scene from a Christian church in the background:
The second photo shows two Australian officers standing on the sidelines as the excavation gets under way:
To my mind, the operation that consists of digging up an amorphous mass of unidentifiable remains of victims of an absurd battle that took place 93 years ago, in order to rebury them elsewhere, is totally senseless, indeed surrealistic. The aims of this curious project do not happen to correspond to any of my personal convictions concerning the sacred nature of human life, the horrors of warfare, or the respect that our societies owe to the descendants of the victims. Are there still naive people who would like to imagine that the war of 1914-18 was, in some macabre sense, "great"? In any case, it is not by dislodging the unrecognizable remains of victims of an ancient war, whom none of us knew personally, that we shall reduce the risk of new conflicts. This energy should be devoted to more urgent challenges.