Today, April 25th, is Anzac Day in Australia. The original Anzacs (Australian New Zealand Army Corps ) served at Gallipoli and on the western front but today we remember all Australian service men and women who gave their lives for our country.
Across Australia and overseas, Remembrance Services are being attended by ever increasing numbers of Australians keen to pay their respects to those who died. These will only increase as Australia begins to commemorate the Anzac Centenary, marking 100 years since our nation’s involvement in the First World War between 2014 and 2018. An incredible number of people have already applied for the limited spots to attend the Dawn Service at Gallipoli in 1915.
Last year we attended the Anzac Day Dawn Service at the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonnuex in France.
The dawn service represents the comradeship that the soldiers experienced as they rose each morning to prepare for another day of military action. As we arrived in the dark, these thought were in our minds.
Floodlights lit our way as we walked pass headstones towards the Australian National Memorial, the mist adding to the solemn atmosphere.
As dawn broke, the service commenced.
The catafalque party arrived….representatives of the army, navy and airforce that perform a ceremonial role in honouring the dead….and took their position.
The Call to Remembrance by the Chief of the Australian Air Force, Geoff Brown was sobering as he described how the men of the 5th Division stood where we were seated on the morning of April 24th 1918 and watched as German forces advanced on Villers-Bretonneux. Australians of the 13th and 15th Divisions were called in to help the British and by the morning of the 25th, Villers-Bretonneux was back in Allied hands.
The readings also included an excerpt from a book written by one of the soldiers who served on the Western Front and was lucky to survive….an amazing account of what they all endured.
Another reading of part of a letter from one soldier’s family also bought home the hardship faced by those back in Australia.
“My own darling daddy, we hope you are better but don’t go into the trenches again for we want you to come home to us. We always talk about you and pray for you to come home safe again.”
The soldier died from a gunshot wound to his stomach in 1918.
Wreaths were laid, the last post played and as the sun rose, we paid our respect to those whose names appear on the walls of the memorial….the names of eleven thousand missing Australian soldiers who died in France.
The service over, we wandered back to the road. I stopped to look at one of the graves that was decorated with a flag, a picture and a red poppy on a cross. A couple nearby spoke to me saying this was the grave of their great uncle and told me how they had travelled from Adelaide to find him.
This was the start of a very moving day, a day spent driving through the beautiful landscapes of the Somme Valley and being constantly reminded of the tragedy of war by the outcrops of white crosses in small cemeteries that dotted the hills.
There was also a moving service at Bullecorte, the scene of another battle a bit further north of Villers-Bretonneux. On the way we visited two other Australian War Memorials in the area.
The Australian Memorial at Le Hammel commemorates the part Australians played in the Battle of Hamel on July 4, 1918. This battle, led by General Monash, lasted only 93 minutes and is still being used as a text book battle to teach modern warfare. Twenty information panels at the site give you the full amazing story.
Adelaide Cemetery at Villers-Bretonneux
This small cemetery that you pass on the way from Amiens to Villers-Bretonneux is where the body of the Unknown Australian Soldier was exhumed in 1993 to be later reburied at the War Memorial in Canberra
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
Lest we forget
From ‘The Ode to Remembrance’ by Laurence Binyon. 1914
The Anzac Day Dawn Service starts at 5.30am
The road to the Australian National Memorial is closed to private cars. Well organised shuttle buses run from Amiens and can be booked at www.anzac-france.com.
We stayed the first night just outside Amiens and they came by and picked us up.
Accommodation in Amiens books out very quickly so make sure you book the moment you know you are going!