FOR nearly a century they were missing, half a world away from home and with no monument to mark their final resting place.
Now, two south-west soldiers who died in the First World War serving 'King and Country' near the northern French town of Fromelles have been identified, with their names officially released to the public yesterday.
Warrnambool's Private Harold Esam and Yambuk's Private John Howard were among the 75 positively identified Australian soldiers named from 250 unidentified corpses discovered in an unmarked mass grave beside Pheasant Wood at Fromelles two years ago.
The soldiers have been reconnected with their descendants through a joint British-Australian project to exhume, DNA test and identify the remains of the 250 soldiers who lay forgotten in a series of pits for more than 90 years.
Army records reveal Private Esam was a 21-year-old whose widowed mother Catherine lived in Lava Street, Warrnambool, before enlisting with the Australian Imperial Force in July 1915.
The unmarried labourer, a Roman Catholic, was killed in action on July 19, 1916 while serving with the 31st infantry battalion.
Five years later his mother wrote an impassioned letter to the Australian Army's records office in 1920 searching for more information about the final resting place of her son and her need for a war pension.
"My son gave his life, his all," Mrs Esam wrote.
"I might say the matter would receive your immediate attention knowing as I stated in (my) last letter that I was a widow and badly in need of gratuity."
The base record department replied to her letter but could not locate Private Esam's final grave.
Originally from Yambuk, Private William John Howard was living at South Woodburn in NSW when he enlisted in July 1915 under the alias "John Morley", giving his age as 44 and listing his place of birth as Calcutta, India - possibly to avoid detection of his real age, 46, which was a year older than allowed.
A painter in civilian life, Private Howard trained in Egypt and served for less than a month in France before being killed in action on July 20, 1916.
The Standard was unable to trace any descendants of the two soldiers yesterday.
Other south-west soldiers including Byaduk's Lieutenant Simon Fraser and Koroit's Vincent Grogan are yet to be identified. All have now been buried individually in a new war cemetery at Fromelles. with THE AGE