Tuesday, 18 May 2010
Remembering the Diggers at Villers Bretonneax
One of our goals while in France was to visit the historic region of the Somme to pay our respects to the fallen Australian diggers who lost their lives during World War One. It was a long weekend, so we left Paris by train on Friday to stay at Amiens. After only a few short hours we arrive at this very pleasant city. Everything was very clean and tidy and there was clearly plenty of civic pride evident. In the centre of the city is Notre Dame Cathedral, which is not quite as famous as it’s namesake in Paris, but is statistically larger and in our opinion more impressive. From here we hop into a taxi for the short trip out of town to Villers Bretonneax and dropped off at the Australian War Memorial that sits on the crest of the rolling hills outside the tiny town. On this site many of our young lads lost their lives as they halted the German advance on Amiens. It remains a pilgrimage destination for many Australians, so not surprisingly we start to hear some Australian accents from those wandering through the rows of headstones. We talked to a lovely couple, who had travelled from Queensland and were moved to tears with discovery of the resting place of a great uncle. The memorial is beautifully maintained and despite the ravages of the Second World War (evident by the bullet holes that still remain on the central tower) it stands proudly as a testament to the enduring bond between Australia and France forged through battle. Similarly this is evident in the township itself with several streets named after Australian cities. We even have coffee at Le Cafe Melbourne before visiting the Franco-Australian museum, which is set above the local schoolhouse built from the donations of Australian school children in the post war period. Looking at the old photos of the area after the devastation of war is quite a sobering experience, but the efforts of our soldiers to rebuild this tiny town makes us proud to be Australian. Amongst the many exhibits was a small bible that had been borrowed (possibly for spiritual comfort) from the local church in 1918 and taken back to Australia by a young surviving soldier. In an accompanying letter written many years later the soldier had felt so badly about taking it that he organised to have it sent back. Such is the respect for a town that it is increasingly being recognised for being as historically significant as Gallipoli.