Visit to the battlefields

Villers-Brettoneux Military Cemetery

Villers-Brettoneux Military Cemetery

A few weeks ago, Nick and I visited the Western Front battlefields and had the opportunity to see the places where the 56th had fought.  We were part of a joint Australian War Memorial – Imperial War Museum tour; about ten Brits and a similar number of us Aussies.  If you saw the 4 Corners program that aired on 10 November you would have seen our tour featured on that.

While Nick has been several times before, for me it was my first visit to the Western Front.  It was truly wonderful to visit all the sites I’ve been studying and writing about for years.  First we hit London for a couple of days, before taking the ferry over from Dover to Calais.  It was a bit of a whirlwind tour, but boy did we ever pack a lot into those five days.  We were on the go from first thing in the morning until after dark every day.  We were so keen to see all these places and just explore as much as possible, that weariness was forgotten – that really hit hard after it was all over. We were also blessed with great weather and great company as the Brits were a good bunch.  We had many fun times discussing the battles over a pint or two…

Day one: Doullens, Bertangles (where Monash had his HQ and was knighted by the King in 1918), Corbie, Heilly, saw the Morlancourt Ridge, then back to Amiens where we were based in a hotel where Australian officers had billeted in 1918.

The AWM-IWM tour group at Bertangles. This chateau was Monash's HQ in 1918 and where he was knighted in the field by the King.

The AWM-IWM tour group at Bertangles

Day two: Adelaide Cemetery, Villers-Brettoneux, le Hamel, Peronne, Mont St Quentin, Riqueval, Bellicourt, Estrees and Montbrehain.

View from atop Mont St Quentin

View from atop Mont St Quentin

Day three: Serre, the Sunken Lane (Lancashire Fusiliers), Hawthorn Redoubt, Montauban, Trones Wood, Mametz, Fricourt, Albert, Lochnagar Crater, Ulster Memorial, Beaumont Hamel, Y Ravine, High Wood and Delville Wood, Martinpuich, Flers and then Pozieres, (drove past Mouquet Farm) and finished up at Thiepval.

The sunken road on the Somme

The sunken road on the Somme

Day four: Louverval (where I gave a talk on the 56th Bn), Noreuil, Bullecourt, Vimy Ridge, Fromelles (where we visited the site of the recently discovered bodies), then up to Ypres in the evening, just in time for the Last Post at Menin Gate.  Whew…

Me giving my talk on the 56th at Louverval

Me giving my talk on the 56th at Louverval

Day five: Ypres, Langemarck, St Julien (where Nick did his talk), Polygon Wood (where Lt Col Scott of the 56th is buried), Tyne Cot, Messines then back down into Ypres to visit the In Flanders Fields Museum.

Nick & I paying our respects at Lt Col Scott's grave

Nick & I at Lt Col Scott's grave at Polygon Wood

After the tour wound up in Ypres, we travelled back across the Channel on the ferry to the UK again.  I then stayed in London for another five days visiting musuems etc, and The National Archives at Kew. 

While in France and Belgium we naturally visited most of the main Australian memorials and cemeteries where we were able to contemplate the scale of the losses, remember the diggers and pay our respects.  I also got a lot out of visiting these sites from the point of view of writing about the battles; i.e. to walk the ground, see the lay of the land, gauge heights and distances etc.  When I write about these places and battles now, I do so with much greater insight and greater confidence.

Pozieres Windmill site

Pozieres Windmill site

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