Hoping to find long lost uncle

Warren Keats is hoping that modern technology can help find his long-lost uncle.
Warren Keats is hoping that modern technology can help find his long-lost uncle. Blainey Woodham

WARREN Keats never knew his uncle, but 93 years after his death he finally has hopes of giving him a proper burial.

Mr Keats, 80, has been called upon by the Australian Army to supply a sample of his DNA in the hopes of identifying his uncle, Private Prosper Goodwin Keats, who died in the Battle for Fromelles in France on July 20, 1916.

“My family always knew what had happened to him. We knew he was killed but he never had a proper burial,” Mr Keats said.

“The tragedy is that he was only there for three weeks before he was killed.

“I would take great comfort if he was identified and given a proper burial and the recognition he deserves. It was a terrible sacrifice made in the battle.”

The Tweed Heads West resident is hopeful his uncle’s body is one of the 250 World War I British and Australian soldiers recovered from an archaeological excavation of Pheasant Wood, Fromelles, by Oxford Archaeology this year.

In hopes of identifying the bodies, the Australian Army has sought to match their DNA with that of living relatives.

“I’ve been in contact with them for a while, but this is the biggest development yet,” Mr Keats said.

The battle of Fromelles on July 19 and 20, 1916, was the first battle fought by the Australians on the Western Front and the first battle of the Fifth Division. According to the Australian Defence Department, 5533 Australian soldiers died in the course of a day.

Private Keats, a 19-year-old posing as 21 at the time of his death, was a member of the 54th Battalion.

Mr Keats said while it was not a mystery what happened to his uncle, it was a strain on his family.

“I was a cadet in the Merchant Navy when I was 16 between 1944 and 1945 during World War II,” he said.

“My father was completely against it though, because of what happened to his brother.”

Mr Keats and his cousin will both supply blood in hopes of a positive identification.

He has also been invited to the commemoration of the Fromelles Military Cemetery on July 19, 2010, the 94th anniversary of the commencement of the Battle for Fromelles and a day shy of the anniversary of his uncle’s death.

Mr Keats said his daughter, Gaylyn, would represent him at the event.

Senior Australian Army Representative Major General M.P.J. O’Brien warned Mr Keats in his letter to him that it is possible they will not be able to identify his lost uncle.

“All registered relatives of identified soldiers will be notified immediately after the conclusion of the Joint Identification Board, but it remains a sad fact that identification of all soldiers will not be possible,” he wrote in the letter.

Reinterment of the soldiers will commence on January 30 and continue throughout February.

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