Monday, 2 April 2007

Chapter 33: Villers-Bretonneux

Above: The mairie (town hall) at Villers-Bretonneux, featuring kangaroos over the door. May 2003.

From April-May 1916 this village was involved in the preparations for the Somme offensive.

The Germans reached here in early April 1918. The Australian army stopped the German army on 25 April 1918. The Australians had been in Ypres and were moved here.

From Australian War memorial website

By 18 April (1918), it was clear that the Germans would attempt to push on to Amiens again. On 24 April, the Germans captured Villers-Bretonneux- which just a few weeks earlier the Australians had fought so hard to defend. The town's defence had been given over to British troops while the Australian divisions regrouped. The enemy attack was spearheaded by tanks which pushed through the British defences. This battle was unique in that it was the first involving tank-against-tank fighting, demonstrating the significance that tanks had increasingly come to assume in 1918.

Orders for the immediate recapture of Villers-Bretonneux were met with a plan to launch an attack by two brigades, the 13th and the 15th. The unconventional night attack began on the 24th. One brigade approached from the north and one from the south, meeting at the village's eastern edge, thereby surrounding the Germans and driving them from Villers-Bretonneux and the adjacent woods.

Although it is clear that Australian troops played a very important role in halting the German offensive at Villers-Bretonneux, some claim it has been exaggerated. By the time the Australians arrived, British troops had borne the brunt of the German offensive attack, and the Germans were exhausted. Regardless, it is at Villers-Bretonneux that France and Australia hold the main annual commemoration of Anzac Day.

“Never Forget Australia”

The victorious Australian troops formed close links with the people of Villers Bretonneux.

Today there is a Franco-Australian Museum on the first floor of the Victoria school, which was built with funds raised by the school children of Victoria.

[insert own pics of V-B school, mairie, and Anzac Day celebrations]

Australian National Memorial and Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery

Nearby is the Australian National Memorial, honouring the Australian soldiers who died and who have no known grave.

On 25 April 1918, the two Australian brigades which encircled Villers Bretonneux met. The memorial here commemorates the 10 797 Australians who died on the Western Front and who have no known grave. The wall of the main memorial consists of a wall carrying the names of all the missing and a 100 foot high central tower. It was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, who also designed the British/South African memorial to the missing at Thiepval.
The Australian memorial - Anzac day commemorations, April 2005:

Not sure if this headstone above belongs to a distant relative of mine.

The school at Villers-Bretonneux was re-built through donations of Victorian school children. It looks just like a typical Victorian school - includign the shelter shed; here champagne and cake are served after the Anzac Day commemorations at the Australian Memorial :

The school hall, which features beautiful wooden carvings of Australian animals and birds:

The British monument at Thiepval (May 2003):

1 comment:

Keira said...

In my french class at my high school we are doing a projecton Villers-Bretonneux, and we had to do all kinds of research and things about it. I was having heaps of trouble looking for pics- and your site really helped! Thankyou!