A LOCAL author has helped identify another World War I digger who spent more than 100 years in an unmarked grave.
Andrew Pittaway, a council records officer by day, collected diaries, letters, oral histories and photos from World War I while writing his book Fremantle Voices of the Great War. During his research he learned of 7000 graves in France and Belgium belonging to unknown Australian soldiers.
Intrigued he joined Fallen Diggers Incorporated, which gathers evidence to identify missing World War I and II military personnel so their families can know of their final resting places.
During the war Diggers would sometimes take the identity tags off their fallen comrades as proof of death, but the bodies were still buried in graves marked as unidentified, Mr Pittaway said.
Searching for evidence of identities involves looking through eyewitness reports, burial information and war unit diaries to build cases. FDI also trawls through archival documents from the Australian War Memorial and the National Archives of Australia.
The evidence must then be presented and approved by the Australian and British governments and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
It can take up to three years for a case to be concluded.
Recently Mr Pittaway and fellow volunteer Dennis Frank successfully identified Albert Nicholson from Broken Hill, NSW who died on August 3, 1918. He was a part of the 15th division artillery and was killed at the bloody battle of Villers-Bretonneux.
“We do get asked at times to look for the burial places of specific soldiers,” Mr Pittaway said.
“The unfortunate reality is that many soldiers do not have any information about how they died and so proving where they are buried is very hard.
“When we are researching a specific soldier, we do find information regarding other missing soldiers, so we mark those names down for further research,” he said.
In 2014 Mr Pittaway’s first successful identification of an Australian solider was Frederick Graham from Fremantle who died near Ypres Belgium in 1917. This inspired him to continue searching for others doing the research whenever he has time alongside his role at the council.
“We know how much it means to the families even 100 years or more later,” Mr Pittaway said.
Veterans affairs minister Andrew Gee thanked Fallen Diggers as well as the graves commission for their work in recovering Australian war casualties: “The quest to identify Albert’s grave brings the number of Australian First World War soldiers which Fallen Diggers Incorporated has helped identify to 36, bringing closure to families of our fallen and allowing us to know the resting places of those soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.”
by KAITLEN ROWNEY