N’oublions jamais l’Australie - Never Forget Australia
Villers-Bretonneux and Bullecourt are two towns on the Western Front that continue to have an ongoing connection with Australia. Due to the warmth and hospitality of the locals in receiving us, the battlefield tour will also not easily forget these towns.
The tiny town of Bullecourt includes a pub called Le Canberra and one of the finest private museums in Northern France. The Bullecourt Musée contains a jumble of rare and interesting collection items found in the local fields. It was started by the Mayor of Bullecourt, Jean Letaille in the 1980's and was greatly expanded following his retirement. The tour joined Jean and some of the locals of Bullecourt for a lunch at the town hall.
When you stand on the Bullecourt Road you can see a line of trees. These mark the railway embankment and the Australian start line for the Bullecourt battle. The Bullecourt Digger is erected to the memory of the 10,000 Australians killed in the two battles of Bullecourt in April and May 1917. It is the work of Australian sculptor Peter Corlett . The Soldier is wearing the uniform and equipment carried by the AIF in the battle. When Corlett originally set out to create the sculpture he was unaware that his father had fought at Bullecourt with the 4th field ambulance. With this knowledge he decided to use a photograph of his father to create the ‘fresh face of a young man about to set off on a great adventure'.
The German army launched a major offensive on the 21st March 1918 called operation Michael. In the final effort of their campaign to break through the Germans captured the town of Villers-Bretonneux. The town was recognised as a strategic key point in the defence of Amiens. By 1918 the Australian army were a tougher and more professional force and the successful counter attack by the Australians at Villers-Bretonneux played a major role in ending the German ‘Spring Offensive' on the Somme. The Australian National Memorial stands to the north of the town on the high ground. From here we could see the strategic importance of this ground.
The school at Villers-Bretonneux is called Victoria School and carries the words 'N’oublions jamais l’Australie'. At the end of the First World War the school children of Victoria subscribed money to rebuild Villers-Bretonneux. John Grant, the art master at the Technical School in Daylesford, Victoria was commissioned to carve wooden panels for the school consisting of Australian fauna and flora. The panels arrived from Australia 1926/7 and decorate the school hall today.