Dead soldiers or development: How long should we honour sacred sites?

Lest we forget.
We remember the fallen in many ways, through memorials and burial sites, but are they to become a thing of the past? Source: Pexels

The French government has proposed to build a wind farm.

That’s not so remarkable. These things are being built all over the world as countries look for alternatives for power sources.

The remarkable thing, however, is the location.

The site the French government is aiming for is a field that was part of a battle in World War I, a site where dead soldiers are thought to lie following the battle of Bullecourt. 

The Australian reported there are plans for six turbines to be installed directly where fierce fighting in two battles in April and May 1917 led to more than 10,000 Australian casualties. It has been estimated the remains of between 3,000 and 4,000 Australian, British, and German soldiers were never recovered from the battle.

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Today marks the 100th anniversary of the second battle of #Bullecourt in France during the #FirstWorldWar. . On 3 May 1917, just three weeks after the 4th Australian Division’s costly and unsuccessful attempt to breach the German Army’s formidable #HindenburgLine defences at Bullecourt, the 2nd Australian Division carried out a second attack over the same ground. The Australians assaulted alongside the British 62nd Division, intending to capture the heavily fortified positions between the villages of Bullecourt and Riencourt. . Unlike the previous attack, this time the infantry was properly supported by artillery that suppressed the #German defences to the east. Attacking waves of the 5th and 6th Brigades still encountered a fusillade of machine-gun and artillery fire from nearby positions, and suffered heavy casualties, but they otherwise succeeded in breaking into the German positions and holding them against a series of determined counter-attacks. . Over the following weeks #Australian and #British troops sought to push on into Bullecourt village amid heavy bombardments from German artillery, and counter-attacks involving stormtroopers equipped with grenades and flame-throwers. As Australian casualties mounted, troops from the 1st Australian Division were drawn into the fighting, and in turn were reinforced by elements of the 5th Australian Division on 10 May. . Unable to hold their position, the Germans abandoned the remains of Bullecourt on 15 May. This second, more prolonged engagement had cost the Australians another 7,000 casualties. But no sooner had Bullecourt passed into allied hands than the focus of British operations shifted north into Belgium, in preparation for a major offensive that would become known as the third battle of Ypres. . In four weeks of fighting at Bullecourt, more than 10,000 Australians were dead, wounded, or taken prisoner for a village that no longer possessed any real tactical or operational importance. . Aaron Pegram, Memorial Historian Photo: Nott, H C. 1917 ID P02321.064 Australian Advanced Dressing Station to receive casualties from the 2nd Battle of Bullecourt . #awmemorial #MilitaryHistory #WW1 #Anzac #War

A post shared by Australian War Memorial (@awmemorial) on

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There’s already been concerns raised amongst Australian politicians, which have even reached out to the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, with calls for him to stop the project.

Opposition veterans affairs spokeswoman Amanda Rishworth said Mr Turnbull needed to seek “clarification” on the wind farm proposal, reports Sky News.

“If these reports are accurate they are incredibly concerning because it does have the possibility of disturbing the unmarked graves of many soldiers,” Rishworth said. “This is a really significant site in Australia’s World War I history and I know that many family members and concerned Australian citizens are concerned at the fact that these unmarked graves and these sacred places these men now lie could possibly be disturbed.”

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Other politicians who’ve expressed concern are family members of the deceased.

Former Queensland Premier Campbell Newman is a relative of Second Lieutenant Leslie Mullett, who was listed as missing in action, and presumed to be killed at the location. Newman told The Australian the plans were an outrage. “It’s the same as someone carving a trench through the Lone Pine cemetery and putting up a wind farm,” Newman said.

Not everyone agrees, though. Speaking on Studio 10 today media personality Denise Drysdale said France should go ahead and build the wind farm. “I’m sure the soldiers 100 years ago would be pleased to know that the soil is being used for something fabulous,” she said.

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While a co-star pointed out that it was a sacred site, Drysdale replied that the TV panellists were no doubt “sitting on a sacred site” at the moment, because at some point someone must have died at that place. She pointed out that the new wind farms could include a war memorial listing the names of those lost.

What do you think? Should history be preserved and sacred sites like these be kept that way? Or does progress have to march on?