It took specialist researchers, archivists, historians, archaeologists, scientists and the cooperation of three nations to lay to rest 250 Australian and British WWI soldiers in a new military cemetery in France.
But if there’s one person who deserves to be singled out, it’s Melbourne schoolteacher Lambis Englezos.
It was the amateur historian who found the mass grave at the edge of Pheasant Wood, near Fromelles in northern France, which was dug by German troops after the disastrous Battle of Fromelles in 1916 and left unmarked.
He launched a search for the site in 2002 and six years later convinced Australian and British army officials to carry out a limited excavation of where he believed the soldiers were buried.
His research was spot on.
The process of excavating the soldiers’ remains ended in September last year, and on Monday Mr Englezos watched as hundreds of families and dignitaries dedicated a new military cemetery in their honour.
“To be here now in this defined and blessed space, and having the families make their pilgrimage, is really what it’s all been about,” Mr Englezos told AAP.
“We went to Pheasant Wood and what we saw in the ground there was certainly very grim and clearly the men were not at rest.
“We’ve advocated very strongly for this and it’s wonderful to be here now today in this place … and see the last of the Pheasant Wood boys reunited and they’ll lie together in dignity.”
Governor-General Quentin Bryce singled out Mr Englezos in her speech, which was met with the spontaneous applause of the thousands gathered under the French summer sun.
“I sincerely praise the extraordinary effort and commitment of the many individuals who have made sure that this day happens. (And) the remarkable work of Australian Mr Lambis Englezos, who first detected the mystery and simply would not let go until it was solved,” Ms Bryce said.
On meeting him after the ceremony, Ms Bryce embraced Mr Englezos, saying: “We are so grateful to you. Thank you. Thank you. I say that for all Australians.”
Many of the families who were given the chance to farewell their loved ones at the new Fromelles Military Cemetery on Monday waited in turn to show their personal appreciation.
“I have just got to shake your hand,” Brisbane man David Parker said to Mr Englezos with tears in his eyes and a photo of his Uncle Jack in his hands.
“He’s the man responsible for Fromelles,” he said of the emotional moment.
Mr Englezos said he hopes the final resting place for the 250 soldiers will become a pilgrimage site for Australians in the same way Gallipoli has.
“What we do here is we commemorate the service and the sacrifice, so people will come here to make their pilgrimage,” he said.
“It’s not blood specific – there’s an open invitation to commemoration and remembrance, and I believe there’s a collective ownership of this place.”