Forty years ago, in May/June 1968 Australian soldiers fought their largest, most sustained and arguably most hazardous battles of the Vietnam War. Units of the 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF) confronted regimental-sized formations of the North Vietnamese regular army in fierce actions around Fire Support Patrol Bases (FSPB) Coral and Balmoral in what was then known as Bien Hoa province.
Dawn and Geoff Harwood were surprised to find that they had a relative buried at Vignacourt British Cemetery. They recognised him as family by his home town and his unusual surname. Geoff and I sat together after dinner last night and using the memorial's website and databases we were able to uncover a little bit more about George Radnell.
When walking the battlefields of the Somme it is evident that most of the visible signs of destruction caused by the First World War have disappeared. The enormous Lochnagar Crater is one of the few surviving scars left on the terrain in this region. A monument to the devastation of war, this crater was caused by a 60,000 lbs mine and is 100 metres in diameter and 30 metres deep. It is hard to capture its sheer size in a photograph.
The major battles of 1916 took place on the Somme. The offensive began on the 1st July 1916 and would become one of the most costly episodes of the war. Between July and mid November the losses reached a total of 1,300,000 men.
Around Australia this week people will be rushing to the post office to send off their last minute Mothers Day cards. Back in the Second World War, with no nearby stationers' shops, what did servicemen and women in the field do? Obviously they could have written a letter, but it just wasn't the same as sending a dedicated card.
The battle field tour, following a strategic withdrawal from Gallipoli, is now touring the battlefields of France. Reinforced with fresh recruits from Australia we travelled to Normandy and viewed the Bayeux Tapestry and then on to the site of the Second World War D Day landings.
This is the final post for our 2008 Simpson Prize blog, with some reflections on the trip, as we all try and settle back into 'normal' life. The trip is without a doubt a once-in-a-lifetime expereince and we were lucky to share it with such a special group of people. Like all travel, it's often the connections that you make with people that are the highlights, more than where you go. However, going to Turkey and being at Gallipoli for Anzac Day certainly combines the place and the people in a great way.
The tour visited Shrapnel Valley Cemetery in the late afternoon and were touched by the sad expression of loss on the grave of Private John Edward Barclay of the 8th Battalion. He was killed in action on the 21 June 1915 and was the husband of Louisa Mary Barclay. He is buried at Shrapnel Valley Cemetery Anzac.