Blog: To Flanders Fields, 1917
The Memorial holds some very interesting three-dimensional relief maps made in 1919 by the Australian War Records Section (the parent organisation of the Australian War Memorial). They were made in London by men who were still in England, waiting to be repatriated home.
The Victoria Cross is the highest British and Commonwealth award for acts of bravery in wartime. In the First World War 64 Australians were awarded this medal. During the battles of 1917 on the Western Front eighteen Australians won the Victoria Cross.
For much of its history Flanders has been a strategically important area during the centuries of conflict in Europe. Ypres, as a major town of the region and a wealthy economic centre, has often been a focal point of the fighting there. Flanders’ location has also put it at the crossroads between long-time rivals England and France, and later as part of the Netherlands territories of other great powers, such as Spain and Austria. Accordingly, this ‘fatal avenue’ (as Charles de Gaulle named it), has so frequently been cursed by the scourge of war that it surely ranks among those regions o
While 11 April 1917 saw the launch of the first action at Bullecourt, on 9 April the larger Arras Offensive commenced. The Arras Offensive of 1917 is often referred to as the Battle of Arras and is a significant battle honour more identified with the British Army. This offensive does however also incorporate the smaller ‘battles’ and 'actions' of the Scarpe, of Vimy Ridge which the Canadians commemorate, and Bullecourt which Australians identify with. (See post on battle honours – Bullecourt)
While reading about the Australians at Bullecourt in 1917, it struck me as odd that there is only one official battle honour for what seemed to be two distinctly separate battles, albeit in the same location. Furthermore, the official battle honour only refers to the second battle that occurred in May, and seemingly ignores the first battle that took place on 11 April. To satisfy my curiosity, I looked in to the matter further, with assistance from colleagues at the Australian War Memorial and from the Australian Army History Unit.
Ninety years ago, in May 1917, the Australian War Records Section (AWRS) was formed in London. It is from this date that we trace the formal origins of the Australian War Memorial. Over the next two years the AWRS acquired approximately 25,000 objects, as well as paper records, photographs, film, publications, and works of art. All were brought back to Australia in 1919 and formed the basis of the collection of what would eventually become the Australian War Memorial.
It is not enough to expect the evidence of the past to be preserved as a matter of chance or accident. Someone has to care.