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September 11th 2015
Published: September 19th 2015
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Australian War Memorials Somme France

Long before we reached Amiens in the Somme region of France we became aware of various commemorations Au Coeur de la Grande Guerre- of the Great War 1914 to 1918.

We were headed toward Villers-Bretonneux where we knew there is an Australian War memorial. But the full extent of that war on France is hard to comprehend. The front line moved from time to time. But it stretched all the way across France and Belgium, from the Atlantic coast around Dunkerque and Zeebrugge right down to Nancy and Mulhouse at the Swiss border. As the crow flies that is over 500 klm. The way the line wobbled around it may well have been 700 to 1000 klms long at times. That’s a long line to man.

In the northern parts of the Champagne region we saw various signs of WW1 commemorations.

As we moved further north west we became more aware that there was much wider involvement than the area called the Somme – which is where Australian forces were deployed.

The towns of Villers-Bretoneux and Pozieres have distinct Australian features such as the kangaroos painted on the town hall, a pub called the “Melbourne“and a nosherie called the “Aussie Digger”, an ecole called the Victoria School.

The war that started in July 1914 got upfront and personal for Belgium and France with Germans taking Amiens and Ypres late in 1914. By 1915 when ANZACs were in Turkey, Germans were taking parts of Champagne and stretched their line of attack right across France from Switzerland to the Atlantic.

All through 1916, 1917 and the first half of 1918 various battles were fought and the line that was known as the battle front ( or front) moved back and forth as towns and districts were lost, retaken and lost again. Civilian populations along these lines moved out or were killed. Buildings and other infrastructure were destroyed. While there were battles all along the war front, it was the Somme region and Belgium that saw the front move back and forth the most, with the fiercest, bloodiest, and the most futile battles, witnessing the most thoughtless leadership by born to rule upper class high ranking has beens.

A brief summary of significant Australian involvement is as best I can summarise it below:

80,000 Australian forces landed at Marseilles ( southern France ) in Feb 1916 after withdrawing from Gallipoli in December 1915. More troops would follow.

The actions below were carried out by separate and various brigades of the AIF between 1916 and June 1918.

19th July 1916 – A 24 hours span at Fromelles became the worst day of the war for Australia with 5,533 casualties ( about 2,000 dead) in an attack that was supposed to distract German attention from the Somme.

23rd July 1916 – AIF takes Pozieres town.

4th August 1916 – AIF takes German stronghold known as Windmill near Pozieres after a 7 week campaign leaving 6,700 Australians dead. Taking this hilltop recorded the highest concentration of loss of life for any battlefield through the entire war.

8th Aug to 3rd Sep 1916 – AIF succeeds in taking Mouquet (Moo-Cow) Farm after 9 attempts with 11,000 casualties.

5th April 1918 – 2 AIF Brigades hold back 3 German Divisions at Dernancourt.

May 1917 – AIF attack and take positions on Hindenberg line with 10,000 casualties.

24th to 26th April 1918 – AIF hold back a German attack on Villers-Bretonneux.

Soon I hope to write about what happened on 4th July 1918. From what I can see, that day was the turning point of the war.

The Australian National Memorial.

This well known cemetery and memorial is the scene of largish ANZAC Day ceremonies. As well as large number of Australians buried here, there are many Canadians and British as well as other British Empire fallen. On the walls of the white stone memorial the names of 11,000 Australian soldiers lost on France who have no known grave.

It sits on prime real estate on top of a hill and there is a 5 storey tower as the centre piece. From the top we enjoyed a peaceful panorama of agricultural vistas dotted with surrounding villages.

But it has not always been a peaceful place.

Not only was it where Australians stopped a German attack on Villers-Bretonneux in 1918, it was a battle field in the 2nd World War. Bullet holes on the memorial are still present. Most of the WWII damage was repaired but some battle scars have been left as historical reminders.

Additional photos below
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