This Museum dedicated to the battle of “Fromelles”, one of the 95 municipalities of Lille Metropole, is still writing the history of World War 1 commitment of Australian, British and German soldiers.
During the First World War, on the 19th and 20th of July 1916, an offensive was launched in the Fromelles sector to relieve the Somme front. Two British and Australian units attacked the positions held by a German division. After 22 hours of fighting, the human toll was heavy; nearly 8 500 soldiers were killed, wounded, taken prisoner or disappeared. Over 5 000 of them were Australians.
In 2008, evidence was put forward suggesting that there were British and Australian soldiers buried in mass graves on the edge of the called “Pheasant Wood” in Fromelles. There followed a large-scale campaign of archaeological digs, financed by the British and Australian governments, which unearthed the bodies of 250 soldiers. In 2010, the bodies were re-buried in the new Pheasant Wood Military Cemetery built by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) to accommodate the 250 soldiers in individual graves. No such cemetery had been built in more than 50 years. Following the discovery, a major DNA identification campaign got underway. Thanks to a multidisciplinary team using cutting-edge scientific techniques, the identities of 166 soldiers have today been revealed.
In the meantime, the idea to create a museum that relates the historical and recent events of the Fromelles battle was born. Its realisation was made possible thanks to the financial support of the Australian Government, the Region Hauts-de-France, the French Ministry of Defence, the Regional Directorate for Cultural Affairs (DRAC), and the local municipalities community which is now part of Lille Metropole. Now owned by Lille Metropole, the museum is a building, designed by the architect David Serero, between heaven and earth. It recalls the German blockhouses present in the landscape around Fromelles. The Museum’s permanent exhibition presents the sequence of events of the battle, together with the living conditions of the troops before and after it. Faithful reconstructions, period objects and documents, as well as digital resources, enable you to discover this tragic episode of the First World War.
Nowadays, identifications are still ongoing. The process has been interrupted due to Covid pandemic because the Australian army wants the descendants of the soldiers to be present in Fromelles for the ceremonies.
Each year on the occasion of 11 November and 19 July several stories of soldiers, whose memory is transmitted by the museum, are told. In Fromelles, if the duty of memory is still so alive, it is also because the story continues to be written. In addition to the ongoing identifications, it is not clear why the German archives of the 1st World war mentioned 400 bodies while 250 were found. Was the estimation of that time wrong? Is there another pit elsewhere? Maybe the question will be answered one day. “
The Museum of the Battle of Fromelles is because of its history keen in international and European exchanges and cooperation. The museum is particularly interested in cooperation with Belgian neighbours in the development of memory tourism routes, but also in broader partnerships and research projects on topics such as digitalisation, innovative archaeological excavation techniques.
Lille Metropole will be happy to welcome you in our museum, give you more information about the museum or discuss with you about potential cooperation projects.