Never Give up the Search for your Ancestors...

Blogger: GemSen. This Sunday, 28 July, marks the 99th anniversary of the start of the First World War. How very poignant then to read a story featured by West Coast Sentinel about an Australian family who have been able to put an end to their almost century long search for their relative, Thomas “Burly” Bills, who died in the World War I Battle of Fromelles.

The Battle of Fromelles took place on 19–20 July 1916 and was a British military operation that took place in Northern France on the Western Front during World War I, subsidiary to the Battle of the Somme. The 5th Australian Division led the attack on the German army at Fromelles and the result was one of Australia's biggest defeats with 5533 men lost in a single night. This was almost four times the losses of their opponents, the German soldiers - possibly including Lance Corporal Adolf Hitler - who had the upper hand and knew the area well. Fromelles was the first major action involving Australian troops in France in World War I and the battle caused a great loss of life  - many of the fallen were never found. According to the feature Thomas Bills was initially listed as dead by the German War bureau, however, this information was turned on its head when in 1918 his brother got a letter from a friend detailing that Thomas was alive but mentally ill and living in an asylum in England. This understandably began a hunt, albeit a fruitless and frustrating one, and his sister Anne searched for him until her death in 1963. The fate of Tom Bills aka ‘Burly Bills’ remained a family mystery unsolved until March this year when DNA technology enabled his remains to be identified. Tom Bills was one of the 250 Australian and British soldiers originally discovered in a mass grave in 2009 and since then 124 Australians have been identified using DNA from relatives. On Saturday 20 July 2013, there was a headstone dedication ceremony where Bills was remembered along with fellow soldiers William Barber, Thomas Francis, William O’Donnell and John McKenzie. Apparently descendants of the soldiers laid wreaths and French schoolchildren laid poppies on the graves of the newly identified soldiers. Historian Dr Pedersen was at the ceremony and said that it was a very poignant event, telling the West Coast Sentinel: "They were raw soldiers in a new division, who found themselves in a tactically flawed position against an experienced enemy. The men demonstrated the values their countrymen still hold dear almost a century later,” he said. Previously the graves were marked ''Known unto God''. Source: West Coast Sentinel and As in the case of genealogy - this story goes to prove that you should never give up the hunt for your ancestors - very often an answer reveals itself when you least expect it. Our UK based transcription team have added another 175,000+ records to our database this month, which could mean fresh insight for you. Visit the Forces War Records website and  fill in the blanks to your military genealogy search.
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