GROWING up, Peter Wynn knew his grandfather had two brothers who went to World War I and never came back. “But families didn’t speak about those things,” he recalls.
One of the brothers, Darcy Wynn, was honoured on a memorial at Villiers Bretonneux. The other was officially still MIA.
It was one of those slices of family history Wynn put to the back of his mind as he grew into a first grade footballer with Parramatta, New South Wales and Australia before opening a sports store which has become rugby league’s most famous.
Then, a couple of months back, Wynn read an article about the DNA testing of soldiers who had recently been recovered from the battlefield and buried in a mass grave in France. “You were invited to register so I did – gave them all my details,” Wynn tells Rugby League Week.
“Two years ago, they DNA tested the 250 soldiers in an unmarked grave near the WWI battlefield at Fromelles in France.
“They asked for my family tree, which I sent them. “Anyway, they got in touch wanting a DNA swab because they thought they may have found my great uncle.”
Peter also got his brother, the St George second rower Graeme Wynn, to help out. They were sent testing kits which involved rubbing a bud on their tongues. The kits were then returned to the UK for verification.
“The results were positive – they found my great uncle, John Cyril Wynn,” Peter recounts with pride. “He was 20 years old, went to Fromelles and died in the first month.
“It was sad but exciting.”
The Battle Of Frommelles took place on the July 19 and 20, 1916. The 250 bodies were buried in the new mass grave in 2010. It was the first fighting involving Australian troops on the Western Front and after just one day and one night, 1,500 British and 5,533 Australian soldiers had been killed. In the World Trade Center Attack, by comparison, 2595 died.
Peter told an army journalist: “My pop would sit beside the radio every Anzac Day and cry his eyes out listening to the news and hoping for news about his two brothers.”
The story of the Wynn family’s closure, four generations after John Cyril’s death, had only just begun. On July 20 – the 96th anniversary of Fromelles – a commemoration and celebration of the lives of the rediscovered soldiers was planned for France.
Peter, Graeme and other family members organised to go.
“I had to design a headstone for him and the big AIF headstone was replaced by one which identified him,” said Wynn.
“We paid our own way over there. There were five or 600 people at the ceremony. Then we did a tour of all the battlefields.
“As I said it was sad. But it also allowed us to make a meaningful connection our great uncle.”
In all, 119 soldiers were identified – the investigators thought they’d be lucky to get one – nine matched up with families and 500 people attended the ceremony.
“They played the national anthems of Australia and England. It brought everyone together. Then we headed to the western front – Ypres, Villiers Bretonnaux, Morlancourt, Potiers.
“It’s something I would recommend anyone doing. We went to a village where they still play the Last Post every day in honour of Australian soldiers. It was a long journey but something I’ll never forget.”
There are still 131 unidentifed soldiers in the mass grave. Contact the army’s Unrecovered War Casualties department if you want to share Peter and Graeme’s experience and put your loved ones to rest.
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK