A proposal to build wind turbines on a World War I French battlefield where thousands of Australian soldiers have lain buried for nearly a century has come under fire from the family of one of the Western District’s most recognisable Diggers.
Simon Fraser, a stretcher bearer from Byaduk who is depicted in the ‘Cobbers’ statue at the Fromelles battle site in northern France, died at Bullecourt on May 11, 1917.
He is among more than 2000 of the 10,000 Australians killed or wounded in the two Bullecourt battles between the Allies and the Germans, who have no known grave.
Port Fairy-based military researcher Maria Cameron, whose husband Max is Fraser’s great-nephew, likened the plan “to putting turbines at Stonehenge”.
She has called for the area to be registered as a national historic site.
Under a proposal by French energy company the Maia Group, six wind turbines were slated for the former battlefield, two of them close to the German Hindenberg Line which was the site of heavy casualties in the April and May 1917 battles.
“I cannot believe anyone would support wind turbines in this highly sensitive part of northern France as it degrades not only the historical significance of this site, but the memory of these men still lying there,” Mrs Cameron said.
“Our family has always had hope of recovering Simon Fraser one day, as do many, many other families hope to recover their war dead from these fields and give these men a formal grave and the families closure.”
Mrs Cameron has been researching the Bullecourt battlefields for more than a decade and was part of the Fromelles mass grave discovery with Melbourne amateur historian Lambis Englezos.
She said bombs, bullets, shrapnel and fragments of bones were still visible in the Bullecourt fields.
“I consider this area to be a cemetery of huge proportions, containing our Australian war dead and indeed war dead from both Britain and Germany. I estimate the numbers would be in excess of 3000 men or more, who still lie there.” Mr Englezos said there remained many Australian soldiers unaccounted for on the Bullecourt battlefield.
“Heritage is being compromised. In time we hope that there will be an official investigation to find and recover our missing,” he said.
Yambuk farmer Geoff Youl, whose great-uncle John Youl died in the trenches in a bombing raid at Bullecourt, said the battlefields were no place for wind farms.
“It would be distressing … I think as soon as you start to dig up the area, you’re going to be digging up remains,” said Mr Youl, who has visited the site several times. “I wouldn’t like to see wind turbines anywhere near Bullecourt.”
Former battlefields Australian tour guide Peter Norton, who lobbied federal Veterans Affairs Minister Michael Ronaldson to intervene, said he had received unofficial notification on Wednesday that three of the proposed six turbines had been cancelled.
Mr Norton was contacted by Bullecourt community lobby group Les 7 Cloches, but said he was awaiting official confirmation and details of which turbines were to be cancelled.
Should the turbines proposed for the two most sensitive battle sites still go ahead, Mr Norton indicated he would continue to campaign against the project.
“I’m not against wind turbines at all. They are a non-polluting energy source. But there are plenty of alternate locations out there for them,” he said.