The Nameless Names
Recovering the Missing ANZACs
Scribe Publications 2018
Hardback 384pp RRP $49.99
Reviewer: Neville Taylor, September 2019
Almost 200,000 headstones in 1000 cemeteries remembering those who fought on the Western Front read ‘A Soldier of the Great War Known Unto God’. Having selected three sets of Australian brothers named on the Memorials at Lone Pine, Fromelles and Menin Gates Bennett endeavours to find why one in 14 Australian families had a son who remains missing in action.
After initial research, three vital questions reared their heads; Why were so many families left without answers to their fate of their missing loved one (s)?; What was the emotional toll on the relatives?; and Does a connection exist between today’s generation and the missing.
The Office of Base Records and the Australian Red Cross Society Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau were both overwhelmed by enquiries. The Red Cross often received conflicting reports on one individual: ‘blown to pieces’, ’carried away dead on stretcher’ and ‘found dead in no man’s land’. If there was no information, had the soldier been taken prisoner? Australia’s Red Cross Bureau was initially set up in Cairo, before moving to London in 1916.
Bennett paints a detailed picture of his selected youths from adolescence to enlistment, their campaign experiences and the last known details before they were classified as ‘missing’. Desperation for news produced incredible reactions. The wife of one brother missing on Gallipoli on 25th April, became a nurse in Cairo and learnt Arabic so she could question Turkish hospitalised prisoners, then moved with the Red Cross Bureau to London.
The Australian government’s wartime and 1920’s promise to ‘spare no expense to find the missing’ became a frustrating task, punctuated by external political interference. The enormity of the task saw only a very small fraction of bodies actually recovered. Controversy reared its head when the Unknown Soldier was exhumed and interred at the Australian War Memorial in 1993. In 2005 an Army History Unit panel were not convinced by the evidence of Lambis Englezos and his colleagues that a number of unaccounted bodies may well be in eight pits adjacent to Pheasant Wood, (having been buried there by the Germans). By mid-2010 DNA testing had resulted in 250 Australian and British soldiers being reburied in Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery – including one of the seven of Bennett’s chosen soldiers!
Bennett’s research and connecting with the descendants provides the full story of the emotional toll the families experienced through so many unanswered questions. The families hold regular reunions of the extended families and the memories of these seven will be preserved for many more generations. Those whose forebears were not involved in the Great War, would appear only to know of the Australian televised ceremonies.
Scott Bennett’s easy style and thorough research enable the reader to become immersed in mysteries we could well do without. Poignant photographs of individuals, battlefields and the crucifixes and headstones take the reader back in time. Chapters have the own endnotes; and a comprehensive bibliography and index round out this valuable and thought-provoking work.