Facts about/history of Australians in France (mostly WW1)
- The ANZACs’ first major battle in Europe was near the town of Fromelles in Flanders Fields near Belgium. For many it was also their last. In the 27 hours after the Australians first attacked the German trenches, 5,533 ANZACs had been killed or wounded. This was twice as many casualties as the landing at Gallipoli. Read more about recent find of those fallen.
- On 4 August 1916, the ANZACs finally captured the ridge line and what little was left of the towntownship of Pozieres in the middle of the Somme. One out of every two ANZACs who fought at the Somme became a casualty. In all more than 22,000 men were lost.
- In 1917, the French village of Bullecourt sat in the middle of the Hindenburg Line. It was fiercely contended between the British/Australian troops and the Germans. Around 10,000 Australians were killed or wounded trying to save this small French village.
- In 1918, the Germans planned a final great offensive capturing many towns in Le Somme and soon were within sight of the town of Amiens which if taken could have meant the loss of the war. The ANZACs were brought back from Belgium as ‘storm troops’.
- At first, the ANZACs fought at Dernancourt a town on the road to Amiens, where 4000 Australians beat off an attack by 25,000 Germans.
- Next the Germans attacked the French village of Villers-Bretonneux, after first using poisonous gas and artillery. When night fell, the ANZACs stormed from their trenches and counter-attacked. The ANZACs then had to enter the village and fight from house to house. Finally, Australian and French flags were raised over Villers-Bretonneux. When the ANZACs stopped to bury their dead – 1,200 Australians had been killed saving the village. It was not until they were putting the date on some makeshift crosses that they realised the date – it was ANZAC Day 1918, three years to the day since they had stormed ashore at Gallipoli.
- The Australian flag is still flown at Villers-Bretonneux. It flies atop the Australian National Memorial, on which is listed the names of over 10,000 Australians killed in France who have no known grave. The French have called the main road through Villers-Bretonneux, Rue de Melbourne. The town has a restaurant called Restaurant le Kangarou, and the school, called Victoria College, was built from the donations of Victorian school children in the 1920s. Throughout the school are the words “N’oublions jamais l’Australie” – never forget Australia.
- In total 70,000 Australians lost their lives in WWI, the majority of these in France. In comparison, 1.7 million French lives were lost.
France at Leisure takes tour groups to the Australian battlefields in Le Somme and Flanders Fields every April.
For memorials of Australians at war in France, go to: www.dva.gov.au/commems_oawg/OAWG/remembering_war_dead/WWI_WWII/Pages/cemeteries%20france.aspx
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