Local family’s uncle’s remains identified at Fromelles

May 19, 2010

Mrs Alison Hosegood and her daughter, Helen will be travelling to Fromelles, France to be present at the reinterment of Mrs Hosegood’s uncle’s remains on July 19.

Cyril Johnston’s remains were positively identified through a DNA sample, provided by Mrs Hosegood’s brother, Warwick Kershaw. Warwick and his wife, Shirley will also be travelling to France for the ceremony.

Mrs Hosegood told the Advocate she is very excited to be going to France for the ceremony. Although she is concerned that the service will be very emotional for everyone, she is greatly looking forward to it. Five of Mrs Hosegood’s first cousins are also making the trip to Fromelles for the reinterment.

There will be three services on July 19. The first is the dedication service, which will be followed by the official reception for the two relatives of every soldier permitted to attend.

Prince Charles and  Camilla, Duchess of Cornwell, will also be attending. At 3pm there will be a graveside reflection for the relatives of the fallen soldiers.
The reinterment of 250 casualties recovered from a group battlefield at Pheasant Wood near Fromelles, began on January 30, 2010, 94 years after the terrible battle.

The casualties were buried with military honours in the new Fromelles Pheasant Wood War Cemetery. The anniversary of the battle occurs on July 19 and on this date the major ceremony will occur to mark the end of the recovery and reinterment process. During the ceremony, the last of the casualties will be formally buried.

Private Cyril Johnston was 24 years old when he was killed. Prior to enlisting on October 1, 1915, Mr Johnstone had been a teacher for 18 months at a small school in southern NSW. His parents, Ronald and Elizabeth Johnston lived on “Keystone” at Myall Creek.

Cyril left Australia on December 20, 1915 aboard the HMAT A6 Aeneus. He saw action in Eygypt, before being posted to the Western Front. Tragically for his family, Cyril’s brother, Osborne, who was a member of the 1st Light Horse Regiment, was killed at Beersheba on November 3, 1917. Osborne had been a farmer at Delungra.

Cyril’s family didn’t know where he had been killed, or indeed whether he had been taken prisoner.

On September 3, 1916 according to Australian War Memorial records, “an informant states that on July 19, at about 3pm south of Armentieres, he saw Pte Johston fall wounded in front of the German barbed wire. The trenches were afterwards taken by the Australians and Johnston should have been found.”

It was a great surprise to his descendants to find his remains identified, after exhumation and testing, from the battlefields of Fromelles.

The battle at Fromelles was the first action for the Australian Infantry Forces (AIF) on the Western Front, which saw them combine with British forces to try to retake a portion of land north of the village of Fromelles, held by the German forces.

After 24 hours of fighting, 5533 Australian soldiers and 1500 British had been killed, wounded or taken prisoner. The Australian War Memorial describes the battle as “the worst 24 hours in Australia’s entire history.” It was a resounding victory for Germany with no ground won by the Allied forces.

A film crew has visited the Hosegood family, on their Upper Whitlow Road property,  filming a documentary on some of the Fromelles soldiers’ families including Cyril’s.

The Advocate understands the production will be shown in Britain on July 19 (Channel 4) and on Remembrance Day on Channel Seven.

After attending the service in France, Mrs Hosegood will travel with her daughter to Laphroaig, on the Isle of Islay, Scotland to follow another arm of the family’s history.

Cyril’s grandfather, Alexander, founded with his brother, Donald, the whisky distillery, Laphroaig.

Before emigrating to Australia, Alexander sold his share in the company to his brother for 350 pounds. The name “D. Johnston” is still to be seen on the label of the famous whisky.