Australian Heros Of The Somme

Trip Start Feb 01, 2005
Trip End Dec 31, 2020

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Where I stayed
Hotel Au Spatial Amiens
Read my review - 3/5 stars

Flag of France  , Picardy,
Saturday, August 6, 2011

On a narrow winding country road flanked by crops of corn, green rolling hills and occasional red poppies, we see in the distance a large white building. This is the Australian War Memorial near the village of Villers-Bretonneux and as we get closer we see neat rows of white gravestones amongst beautifully manicured lawns and flower gardens. The skies are gloomy and threatening rain, but it is still and quiet.

It was at this place that Australians, and in particular West Australians, were instrumental in changing the tide of World War 1. The Germans took the village in April 1918 but the Australians counter attacked, reclaimed the village, then further advanced on the German army in the battle of Amiens. It was at a high cost of 779 Australian lives. The Australian Government has built a huge memorial with all the names of those lost and injured. This memorial also is to commemorate the horrific total of all the 10,797  Australian lives lost on the Somme and Arras.

As we open the gate, walk through, and hear it click gently behind, we are overwhelmed by the sense of place – of being somewhere very important in history and for awhile we have the place totally to ourselves as we wander around the gravestones and read the names and ages. Such a waste of very young men so early in Australia's history! We had been to Anzac Cove in Turkey in 2005 and felt this same sense of history and waste of young lives. Villers-Bretonneux is the resting place of many young men from the wheat belt area of WA where Avan was born and bred.

A group of 4 others arrive from Melbourne and for awhile we discuss the futility of war before we all climb the tower that is part of the memorial, and gaze out over the French fields of the Somme.

Back in the car we slowly travel on and see many more neat white graveyard memorials – some British, some Canadian and many more Australian. We stop and have a look around Adelaide cemetary right on the edge of Villers-Bretonneux, from where the Unknown soldier laying in Canberra was exhumed.  Suddenly the skies open up, and it absolutely pours with rain as we head off for the city of Amiens. We think about the World War 1 soldiers and the stories about how they sloshed through the mud on the Somme and as the rain pelts down turning the edges of the roads to mud, we are glad it is 2011 and we are safe and dry in our little Renault hire car!

Before visiting the Somme we had been on a mission to find some UNESCO listed Belfries of which there are 30 scattered over Belgium and France. We found our first in Lille even before we set off in our hire car, and then popped over the border to Tournai in Belgium, to find an amazing example that we were able to climb up inside. Also in Tournai we visited the Notre Dame Cathedral. Belfries have had different purposes over the years starting out as watch towers, then becoming a symbol of freedom and a means of communicating with the populace through various bell ringings and their meanings. We found another in Amiens where we went to after the Somme, and another UNESCO listed cathedral, but it was by now pouring with rain and Amien's one way street systems were doing our heads in!  Our GPS did not know about all the one way streets and was letting us down badly. We ended up getting the tourist bureau to book us some accommodation and we eventually found our way there down narrow cobblestone one way streets, and found refuge from the teeming summer rain.  

Footnote: Notre-Dame Cathedral in Tornai, Belfries of Belgium and France*30, Amiens Cathedral are all UNESCO World Heritage listed.
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