On Sunday 11th of November 2018 marked the Anniversary of the 100th year since Germany signed the Armistice to end the Great War. It would be a few days before the guns would fall silent. It wasn’t like it is today with a text or a tweet saying “the war is now over” It took days for the word to get through to the front lines.
Every year on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month there would be a one-minute silence to remember those who lives were lost and those who did come home, that had their lives changed forever.
Muriel and I were privileged to be able to visit the Somme Battlefields last year in August. I don’t think we, well at least I know I didn’t realize what was in store for us this day. We learn about the war from documentaries and newspaper articles and in school. The enormity of it all hit home when you see row upon row of white crosses and headstones. In every village our coach passed through you would see memorials and cemeteries.
We first visited the Franco-Australian Museum – Musee Franco-Australien in Villers-Bretonneux. As I walked around looking at the exhibits I could feel tears welling in my eyes. Hence I only took one photo inside and that was of the stirring poem “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae.
Attached to the Museum is the School of Victoria. This school was re-built with the help from mostly Victorian schoolchildren raising funds and the help of the Australian Government.
In the school grounds is the sign “Do Not Forget Australia”. It was school holidays in France however classes were still being run for the children of parents who are not able to get the time off work.
Our next stop would be the Australian National Memorial and Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery. The Sir John Monash Centre was in the process of being built however it has now opened as at April 25th Anzac Day 2018.
As we walked up the stairs past the words “Their Name Liveth For Evermore” on a memorial, it hit home. So many white headstone’s in row upon row. So many young men their lives cut down in the prime of life. They had no idea what was in store for them. No Facebook or Instagram showing them what was going on in a country so many miles away. However, they went to fight alongside the French to keep their country free. These young men, brave young men, laid their life down so you and I could live the way we do today.
We walked silently up to the Central Tower flanked by wing walls with the names commemorating the 10,732 Australian casualties who died in France and who have no known grave.
As we turned to look out over the fields, so peaceful today, to visualize that over 100 years ago it was a war-torn ravaged land. With young men dying in these fields.
One of the many Graves to the Soldiers who are unknown. During the war, it was usual to bury a soldier where he died.
Below is the inscription on the side of the Tower. It is in English on one side and French on the other.
“The Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery was established after the Armistice when graves were brought in from other burial grounds in the area and from the battlefields. There are now 2,144 Commonwealth servicemen of the First World War buried or commemorated in this cemetery, 605 of whom remain unidentified.”
Quote taken from the website https://sjmc.gov.au/australian-national-memorial/
It was a sombre short coach trip to Villers-Bretonneux to have lunch.
The ships kitchen staff had prepared a packed lunch for us all. Sandwiches, fruit, a muffin and a drink. Of course mine was all gluten-free. Once lunch was over we had an opportunity to wander around the village. The friendship between this French village and Australia was very evident. Streets named after our city Melbourne.
Our day wasn’t over as we would be taken to a few more of the memorial’s and cemetery’s scattered across the Somme Valley. I will do separate posts to honor the fallen and the Great War. In the Somme, there are 410 Commonwealth Cemeteries, 22 French Military Cemeteries and 14 German Cemeteries.
“Lest we forget”