20th July 2013
Visiting the WW1 battlefields and memorials was the reason for heading to this region, but trying to book a day tour on reasonably short notice wasn’t exactly easy. I could advise the arrogant man in the tourist office in Paris it was more difficult than booking an ascent of the Eiffel Tower! I also thought the tours were rather expensive but ended up booking a day with True Blue Digger Tours leaving from Amiens.
Of course I arrived way too early, as usual, although that meant I wasn’t worried about missing the bus. I was a tad disappointed when the mini bus arrived to find I was the only passenger for the day, half the enjoyment for me of a bus tour at the moment is the company of the other passengers. Well, at least I had no fear of not being able to see everything, I was up the front with Barbara, the lovely owner of True Blue Digger Tours.
We started with a visit to the cathedral of Amiens, it’s a lovely building – as cathedrals go – built during the 13th century. As a lot of cathedrals do, this one reminds me of the Notre Dame in Paris, maybe it’s the big rose window or the square towers – but apparently, this one is the tallest completed cathedral in France. It has some lovely stained glass windows, a multitude of statues and as usual it’s totally mind-blowing to think it was built during the 13th century. Thee are quite a few plaques dedicated to the Australian, New Zealand and other nationalities of soldiers who defended the town and surrounding areas during the Great War. While the cathedral was lovely I was more interested in heading out to the WW! battlefields so was happy to move on after just a short while.
“On 24 April 1918 the Germans seized Villers-Bretonneux. That night, Australian soldiers counter-attacked to the north and south of the town and encircled it, and by the evening of 25 April – Anzac Day – the enemy had been driven out.” Australian Rememberance Trail
First stop was Adelaide Cemetery just outside Villers-Bretonneux. With Barbara’s help I found the grave of my Mum’s uncle, William Milward, who died on the battlefields in April 1918 and is buried here. The cemetery is set on the side of one of the roads leading into the town, behind a few trees and surrounded by paddocks of wheat, a lovely quiet peaceful setting. I took a few pics, sat and had a chat to an uncle I was too young to ever know and told him I’d be back with a little wooden cross, a poppy and a message later in the day.
On to Villers Bretonneux and the Victoria School where I was fighting back tears all the way through, it’s just so sad to think of all the lives lost and the horrors people endure during wars. Before we left I bought 3 little wooden crosses with paper poppy attached to leave at a few special graves.
“The setting is now one of tranquil peace. It is impossible for those who did not serve to imagine that the carnage here was great and the conflict terrible.” [From speech by Sir Earle Page, Australian Government official representative at the unveiling of the Australian National Memorial in France, 22 July 1938.]
The quote above is very apt to describe the Australian National Memorial on the other side of Villers Bretonneux. Again we searched the records kept at the memorial to find the names of another two soldiers who didn’t leave France in 1918. I wrote little messages on the crosses,left them as near as I could to their names and took a few photos for people at home who had asked me to look up their relatives.
Everything about these visits was so very informative, Barbara has an absolute encyclopedic knowledge of everything connected to World War 1 and the Australian’s involvement. On the other hand the avalanche of emotion was harrowing; I was drained by lunch-time.
After a great lunch at a local café we continued visiting cemeteries and memorials; a large new Australian one, The Australian Corps Memorial Park at le Hamel, in the middle of wheat fields that I hadn’t heard about, the Windmill on Pozières ridge, Mouquet Farm, old trenches within the Newfoundland Memorial Park, and the Lochinvar crater,
I hate to say it, but without other people to mix it up a bit, I was quite happy to head back to Amiens for a wander around another lovely French town, a little window shopping and an afternoon wine before heading back to Arras.