Fromelles: Families of British First World War veterans complain of being 'banned' from commemorations

The families of British First World War veterans have accused the Australian government of banning them from a ceremony commemorating a battle in which thousands of men from both countries were killed.

A special service marking 100 years since the Battle of Fromelles - known as one of the bloodiest battles in Australian military history - is due to take place in the northern French field where it took place on 19 July.

In a matter of hours, the 5th Australian Division saw 5,533 killed, wounded or taken prisoner after being sent over the top in the battle, only days after arriving at the Western Front. More than 2,000 of those men died.

As a result, the catastrophic day has been viewed by some historians as a consequence of poor British planning.

Names engraved on the memorial war at the Australian Cemetery and Memorial in Fromelles. Credit: Chris Radburn / PA Archive/Press Association Images

The Australian War Memorial itself describes the attack as a "complete failure" which had "no impact whatsoever upon the progress of the Somme offensive".

However, after it emerged that families of the 1,547 British casualties would not be invited to attend, some complained that they were being unfairly excluded from remembering their fallen loved ones.

Casualties at Fromelles

Gunner Fred Bemrose from Dorset died in the hail of gunfire from the German-held higher ground known as the Sugarloaf.

Speaking to the Times, his grandson, Michael Bemrose - who has made regular visits to the battlefield since the remains of 250 Allied soldiers were exhumed and re-interred there in 2010 - accused Australian authorities of trying to "airbrush" British soldiers from the history of the deadly day.

Prince Charles and Camilla attended the 2010 burial ceremony. Credit: Lefevre Sylvain / ABACA/PA Images

Richard Dibben - the great-nephew of killed Private Harry Dibben from Buckland Newton, Dorset - had also hoped to go to the ceremony, and told the newspaper: "I think it's grossly unfair."

A spokesman from the Department of Veterans said the event was limited due to the small size of the Fromelles site, but added that the "ceremonial focus will be on the Australian role in the battle and on the Australian soldiers lost".

A decision has been made by the Australian Government to prioritise Australians and French in the seated area," he added, noting that most governments had chosen to commemorate the centenary of the Somme offensive with a single ceremony - such as Britain's Thiepval memorial on 1 July.

"This is not to diminish the role of other nations but simply a recognition of the Australian focus of the event we are organising."