'So young and wistful': Private Percy Weakly.

'So young and wistful': Private Percy Weakly.

When Sharon Summers answered the phone on Wednesday night she could hardly believe what she heard.

''I had this great intake of breath, I still get goosebumps talking about it,'' she said.

The phone call, from Army HQ in Canberra, was to tell her that her great, great uncle Private Percy Weakley, who went to war and never returned, had been identified almost a century after he died in battle.

One of 250 soldiers buried by German troops in a series of mass graves following the Battle of Fromelles in July, 1916, the South Australian-born Private Weakley had left his wife Margaret and young daughter Lorna in Brisbane to join the 31st battalion. A labourer on the Brisbane docks, he was 31 when he signed up.

He is among 20 soldiers the Australian government will soon announce have been identified this year. It takes to 144 the number of Diggers identified by name in the five years since the joint Australian-British project began.

''He was 31 but in his photo, he looks so young. And wistful,'' Ms Summers said from her home in Goulburn in New South Wales.

Private Weakley was born in Parkside, in suburban Adelaide, the youngest of nine children. His name is inscribed at VC Corner – the only all-Australian cemetery in France.

Having been exhumed from the Pheasant Wood pits on the outskirts of Fromelles, Private Weakley’s DNA was sampled and his case files studied by a team of scientistswho were able to make a match with DNA volunteered by his descendants.

Now Ms Summers is not only planning a trip to Fromelles in July to be at the ceremony to unveil Private Weakley’s new headstone, she is co-ordinating the brainstorming taking place among family as they search for the words to be inscribed on his headstone.

It won't be her first visit to Fromelles – that took place last year. ''When I went over in August and he was still unknown, I stood in front of an unknown soldier’s grave at Fromelles [Pheasant Wood] Military Cemetery and I said 'are you my Percy'? It was quite emotional. But I was convinced that one of them was going to be Percy.''

Ms Summers’ belief was reinforced by the fact that Private Weakley’s identification tags were returned to Australia by the Germans via the Red Cross.

Another among the 20 soldiers identified this year is Private Archie McDonald from New South Wales, who served in the 54th battalion and whose identification tags were also returned.

‘‘I was overwhelmed, I wasn’t expecting it to happen,’’ Private McDonald’s nephew Rod McDonald, 72, said from Brisbane. ‘‘I was very emotional when contacted with the news and was speechless for some time.’’

Born in Wyrallah in NSW, Private McDonald was a 19-year-old farmer when he enlisted in 1915. The fifth of 13 children, he served in France with two brothers Duncan and Ronald both of whom returned but never spoke of their war years.

After retiring Mr McDonald visited VC Corner in 2007 where more than 400 Australians are buried in two mass graves. His uncle’s name is inscribed on the memorial wall - and as far as he knew that was his uncle’s final resting place. But soon afterwards his youngest son, a serving soldier and Afghanistan veteran, spotted Private McDonald’s photograph on a ‘lost Diggers’ website, which prompted more research. And four years after providing a DNA sample, he got the phone call he'd dreamt of.

''I'm lost for words,'' he said. ''It's just unbelievable.''