Let the Diggers rest
Those people with strong religious beliefs tend to think graves are better left undisturbed. People with strong non-religious beliefs share this view.
“Let the dead rest” is a universal sentiment that is only ever challenged when foul play or mass executions are suspected.
There is no good reason to dig up our Diggers. Nothing will be gained by identifying those members of the 31st Battalion, and others, who died at Pheasant Wood in France, in July 1916. We already know what happened.
There is no wife waiting in the wings for news of her husband, no children waiting for confirmation that dad is not coming home.
People who believe they may be related to the hundreds of Diggers and British soldiers who were buried in mass pits by Germans at Pheasant Wood are being asked to register their details and may be DNA tested to ascertain their connection.
But this exercise in archaeology and anthropology does not appear to have been borne of a clamour among distant relatives seeking answers on their great uncle’s or great-grandfather’s fate.
The rationale for the Fromelles expedition has not been adequately explained. This new breed of (lower-case) diggers may have convinced governments to fund their forensic picnic, but they will provide satisfaction to no one apart from themselves.
What are they finding in Pheasant Wood? They are finding that men were shot, stabbed, gassed or blown apart.
The prowess of these forensic experts would be better served investigating the mass graves of recent conflicts, where suffering relatives really are waiting for answers about their loved ones. Or putting their talents to investigating cold homicide cases.
At about the time Lord Elgin was ripping off the Parthenon of its sculpture and architecture and crating it to Britain, so-called British scientists were robbing the graves of Aborigines and likewise freighting the skeletons to museums.
The demands that the Elgin Marbles and the Aboriginal remains be returned to their rightful homes are valid.
This is different. Our men were not stolen. They were taken by war. Ataturk said those Diggers who died at Gallipoli were at peace and “having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well”.
We should accept his remarkable words and apply them, widely. Otherwise we’ll not only be digging up the Somme but Kokoda, Changi and the whole Middle East. We’ll never stop.
Where the Diggers rest is where they rest. These graves surely represent hallowed ground. This ground, left undisturbed, holds more meaning that could ever be achieved by digging them up, identifying them, putting them back in the ground or possibly returning them to solitary graves in Australia or Britain.
We asked a lot of them, but they no longer ask anything of us. They lie with their comrades and that is not such a bad place to be.
It is not possible to imagine what they think of eager scientific types cleaning up their old bones with (literally) toothbrushes.
But if they could talk, they, being soldiers, might suggest the money was better spent equipping our current soldiers, or looking after the veterans and widows who still remember their wars.
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