The Australian impact on Villers-Bretonneux

<The Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery, in Villers-Bretonneux, France >
Living literally on the other side of the world, France really is a long way from my roots in Australia. Modern technology helps reduce that distant feeling, letting me stay in touch easily with family and friends. But when I think of the Australians who fought wars in Europe, it’s difficult to imagine just how far away they felt.

<The Australian National Memorial and Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery, in Villers-Bretonneux, France >The serene lawn of a war cemetery and memorial grows on the outskirts of the French village of Villers-Bretonneux. Surrounded by green fields, the Australian National Memorial is now peacefully quiet. However, it’s on this very hill that the soldiers battled to win back the town from the Germans. Success was looking likely by the early hours of 25th April 1918 (coincidentally, the same day as the Gallipoli offensive started in 1915 — now commemorated annually as ANZAC Day in Australia and New Zealand). By 26th April, Villers-Bretonneux was back in French hands, with many lives lost in the process.

The cemetery and the monument were completed just a few years before the Second World War, and it suffered damage in the subsequent crossfire. Bullet marks are still visible on some buildings. The memorial commemorates the 10,765 Australians who died in the region. Of those casualties, the cemetery contains the graves of 779 Australian solders, plus 1089 British, 267 Canadians, four South Africans and two New Zealanders.

The memorial is sobering, and reading some of the gravestones is difficult. One mentioned that the soldier’s distant parents would never be able see the grave. However, the town of Villers-Bretonneux has embraced the Australians’ victory by renaming streets, schools and businesses with Australian names. After the battle, the village was adopted by the Australian city of Melbourne, which collected funds to help rebuild the village. The spirit of Australia is something I never thought I’d find in the middle of France, but it most definitely exists.

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I'm a technical author, journalist and writer from Australia who has been living in Europe since 2000 and exploring the world from there. My passions are writing, snow sports and travel.

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9 comments on “The Australian impact on Villers-Bretonneux
  1. Ron Rundle says:

    Sobering indeed, Wendy. They still love the Australians in Villers-Bretonneux. A bit humbling, really. Lest we forget.

  2. Wendy says:

    Well said, Ron. Lest we forget. I’m not sure it’s possible to visit that memorial and not shed a few tears.

  3. Joan Fry says:

    Shame its meaning cannot be transmitted to the brats who destroyed your flag or the bullies who harrass the foreign residents of Menthon St. Bernard.
    My American husband’s cousin helped save some of France’s major artists – he was Varian Fry. There is a movie about him.
    My own British uncles fought for six years to keep this place safe, and one spent three years in a Nazi prison camp.
    Lest the shall forget??? They’ve forgotten – so we got Bosnia and Kosovo, and there is more of that in the pipeline. god forbid Europeans should prevent a bully – ask Bashir in Syria.

  4. Wendy says:

    Wow! It sounds like your family have an amazing past, Joan. A world without war would be so fantastic. Maybe one day (post apocalypse?)…

  5. Lovely photo. I had that same sobering feeling when I visited Omaha Beach and the American memorial site in Normandy. It really does take your breath away.

    p.s. I was wondering if mirabelle plums would be good in a clafoutis! Now, I just have to wait for my neighbor’s tree to bear its fruit. They gave us a huge bowl of them last year…

  6. Emm says:

    What a moving post. I had tears in my eyes and goosebumps on my arms. Nicely written, poignant with beautiful photographs.

  7. Wendy says:

    Thanks, Emm. Some of those gravestones had very moving messages on them. Well they all did, really.

    Samantha, all those bunkers up in the north by the beaches – it makes me realise just how impossible landing at places like Omaha must have been. Let’s hope those beaches never see those times again.

  8. Sue says:

    I’ve posted elswhere this evening, but coming back to have a look at your site after an evening out I chanced upon this. I drive back to the UK every summer and go through Northern France and Belgium. Anybody who has read a bit will know all the village and town names already.. I don’t stop on my way through but I occasionally travel off the motorway. Seeing just how many small cemeteries there are is disturbing: some only have 80 to a few hundred dead in them…

    Shit lads, I’ll stop off to say.. cheers.. next time I’m passing through.

  9. Wendy says:

    I hope you’re enjoying what you’re reading, Sue! I was amazed to see a massive statue of an Australian soldier in a village I ended up in one day when lost. The flowers and area were in immaculate conditions, and I find it heartwarming that the soldiers’ short lives haven’t been forgotten.

About me

Wendy Hollands writer in Annecy, France

I'm an experienced professional writer based in the French Alps. I enjoy learning French language nuances, winter sports and travel. Read more...

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