|Villers-Bretonneux to Le Hamel...|
|The Somme Area of Northern France is not unlike some parts of NSW in terms of terrain and crops grown. The month of July is harvest time with nearly every square metre under crop whether it be wheat, barley, oats, field peas or potatoes.|
It is in this area that the Australian Army of WW1 fought one of its most famous battles from Villers-Bretonneux to Le Hamel during March to July 1918.
The Department of Veterans’ Affairs have an excellent publication which enables the visitor to actually cover the exact areas both in the car and on foot where this battle took place. In 2000 my wife and I, along with her sister and our son who was living in Paris, followed the steps outlined in this guide to visit the trenches and battlefields.
|Villers-Bretonneux is a small town and is the location of the Adelaide Cemetery. It was from here that the Unknown Soldier was exhumed and taken to the Australian War Memorial, Canberra and interred in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. |
There is a sign opposite the cemetery on the main road which says ‘Robinvale Victoria Australia’, with the outline of a kangaroo in the bottom left hand corner. Each grave is well maintained with a little flower garden at the foot of each one. A visitors book is available on leaving for comments and signing. Even 98 years after the War, Australians are still revered in this area.
|Just out of Villers-Bretonneux is the Australian National Memorial of which the lawns and gardens are kept in immaculate condition. This cemetery contains some 779 Australian graves. Wandering through these cemeteries makes one feel very humble and that you are not alone, but the presence of those who wore the Slouch Hat and died in this country is very real. There is also a visitors book to be signed as well.|
At the village Vaire Sous Corbie we left the car and walked up what is called the Sunken Road to Pear Trench towards Vaire Wood. Pear Trench is still quite obvious and can be walked along. This is approx. a 1km walk through crops of potatoes and wheat and at this time is absolutely quiet and one almost expects to pick up some old cartridges and fragments of shrapnel which are there but not visible. French farmers are still finding pieces of ammunition and also the remains of soldiers who fought in the area.
|Onwards to Le Hamel we pass through Vaire Wood to the Australian Start Line, the German Front Line and past Kidney Trench which is almost now invisible.|
Le Hamel is a small village which was the final objective of the Australian attack on July 4, 1918. In remembrance of this an Australian Corps Memorial has been erected on a hill which was occupied by Australians for five weeks after having captured it from the Germans. This memorial has been erected in the modern style with the Rising Sun Badge as the centrepiece and the outside walls containing the Colour Patches of every Australian unit of WW1. There are still some of the original trenches (you can walk through) that are dug out of the chalky soil. At the front of the memorial is the carpark with a toilet block and picnic area, also a talking mushroom, an Australian production outlining battles in the area. This was very new, the land was donated by the French Government and the memorial funded by the Australian Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
From the memorial looking out over the valley the exact spot where the Red Baron was shot down, can be seen.