Today Geoff and I watched a Remembrance Ceremony live from Villers–Bretonneux in France, known during the first World War as: ‘The Western Front.’ I am the mother-in-law of a soldier so it has made me more interested than some in watching such ceremonies.
You see, every year on 25th April, the people of Australia are given a public holiday to commemorate all those who have died in war or who are presently serving in war. It is a very special day for Australians for we have been very involved in every major war since the Boer War before the turn of the 20th century.
You would think, as we live on the other side of the world, that we would not be affected much by World War I in Europe but this is not true. Our soldiers volunteered to fight for ‘Mother England’ against the Germans in France and against the Turks at Gallipoli in Turkey.
In World War II, again our soldiers fought with England and the allies (although we had come a long way since the days of thinking of England as ‘Mother’). Again, we fought in various places in Europe, however, today I want to write about The Western Front because I was moved by the speeches made in Villers–Bretonneux when I watched the ceremony today.
During the beginning of WWI, our nation comprised 5 million people (today we have 23 million). We lost one tenth of our population (of men) on the Western Front during this war. All of them were volunteers … not one conscripted soldier among them. There is a great website about The Western Front which had me spell-bound. Here I gained a lot of information:
“Dotted across the landscape of France and Belgium are hundreds of war cemeteries and memorials where these soldiers lie buried or where their names are listed among those thousands who have ‘no known grave, the ‘missing’. This website is dedicated to their memory and to those who served with them and returned to Australia, many of them wounded in body and spirit.
World War I, 1914-1918, was the ‘Great War’, the ‘war to end all wars’. In that conflict, the most important battleground was the ‘Western Front’ in France and Belgium where great battles were fought with names that were once household words in Australia — Fromelles, the Somme, Bullecourt, Messines, Passchendaele and Villers–Bretonneux.
Of the more than 295,000 Australians who served in this theatre of war in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF), 46,000 lost their lives and 132,000 were wounded. www.ww1westernfront.gov.au”
The French people in this part of the world, show an enormous debt of gratitude to the Australian ‘Diggers’ (as our men are known) who fought to gain back the French territory lost to the Germans in April 1945. They succeeded! Therefore, in footage shown all around the areas mentioned above, you will see Australian flags flying and other signs saying ‘thank-you’ to the Diggers.And at our Remembrance Ceremonies on 25th April every year at Villers–Bretonneux, we have French dignities as well as Australian ones, taking part in the service. About one-third of the ceremony is in French. It is heart-warming to watch the camaraderie that exists between the people in this part of France, and Australia.
Also, hundreds of ordinary Australians make the journey to be there for this service just before dawn. As the sun comes up, light is shed on the monument and graves at Villers-Bretonneux which was built in 1939 and opened by King George VI to commemorate the fallen.
France will never forget our Diggers though the years may go by. All throughout Fromelles, the Somme, Bullecourt, Messines, Passchendaele and Villers–Bretonneux monuments of various sizes, as well as cemeteries full of fallen Australian Diggers, can be seen.
So today, on this Anzac Day, we remember all those who were lost in wars… but especially today, I would like to remember the 46,000 soldiers from World War I who lost their lives on The Western Front.
~LEST WE FORGET~