West Australian descendants of two World War I Diggers received long-awaited confirmation yesterday that their ancestors were among those hastily and namelessly buried in a mass grave by German forces after the battle of Fromelles in 1916.
The positive identification of Pte Arnold Holmes, Lance-Cpl Allan Bennett and 73 other Australian soldiers put to rest part of a 94-year mystery over the identity of about 250 British and Australians buried on French soil after the battle, the most catastrophic day in Australian military history.
Nearly 800 Australians, 40 of them from WA, sent DNA samples to the Federal Government after exhumations at the Pheasant Wood grave site in northern France as part of a Commonwealth project to identify the soldiers' remains.
At least 20 West Australian servicemen are among the dead.
Reinterments at a new purpose-built Pheasant Wood cemetery have been taking place since January and will continue until the final burial and commemoration ceremony in July.
Scientists began the identification program two years ago, using DNA testing and military enlistment records for height, age and build.
The bodies had been buried six-deep by German forces, with only a thin layer of soil separating them.
The Diggers fell after being ordered to cross a 400m patch of ground to reach the German lines - fields already covered by the bodies of English soldiers killed in a similar battle the year before.
Those indentified will now have a name, a headstone and a family to grieve their passing.
News confirming the identities had a strong emotional impact yesterday, even though most had never met their late relatives.
Karawara grandmother Nancy Ahern, 86, said she felt so strongly about paying her respects to her late uncle that she would "hock the house" if necessary in order to attend the commemoration ceremony.
Mrs Ahern's uncle, Pte Arnold Holmes, was identified from DNA sent by a relative in Queensland.
"The call from Canberra, it was the call that woke me up this morning and it's really exciting," Mrs Ahern said.
"I am feeling a bit weak in the knees and terribly excited. I even had a bit of a weep. He was only away at battle for a few days when he was killed."
Claremont cousins Judy Thomson and Margaret Macartney said they were overwhelmed to find out their uncle's body had been identified.
Ms Thomson, 87, said she too had wept when she was told Lance-Cpl Allan Bennett, who served in the 32nd Battalion, was among the dead.
Lance-Cpl Bennett had disappeared on French soil, and the family had hoped that DNA testing would reveal his final resting place so that he could be afforded the dignity he deserved.
"It's just really sad knowing that my father's brother was killed and buried en masse in an undignified way," Ms Thomson said.
She has already booked to attend the commemoration ceremony with her son Peter.
More than 5500 Diggers were killed, wounded or captured at the catastrophic World War I battle, which is described at the Australian War Memorial as "the worst 24 hours in Australian history".
That figure is equivalent to the combined casualties in the Boer, Korean and Vietnam wars.
The Federal Government is expected to make a further announcement today. It is understood that DNA testing will continue on other remains.