BATTLEFIELDS OF NORTHERN FRANCE TOUR
BATTLEFIELDS OF NORTHERN FRANCE
The confirmation of stories that are etched in the history books about the battles in Northern France will give your group an unforgettable experience and intimate memory of a part of history that has moulded how the world has moved on from the World Wars (WWI & WWII).
List of BATTLEFIELDS OF NORTHERN FRANCE to visit,
- Sir John Monash Centre
Among the many sights nearby are the Tank Memorial and the grand Thiepval Memorial, a 45-metre edifice seen from anywhere on the battlefield. See the 60-metre illuminated panorama depicting the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Next, visit the lasting physical evidence of that day at the incredible Lochnagar Crater, also not far away, where the blast of some 24,500 kilograms of explosives left an enormous and permanent scar on the landscape – and signalled the start of the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
Our most catastrophic losses of life in France’s battlefields happened in Pozières in the Somme Valley. This sombre history can be explored among the walking trails, observation deck and interpretive signage of the 1st Division Memorial, and particularly, the Australian Memorial at the Windmill, site of the fiercest battle of all to take this highly strategic German-occupied blockhouse.
The first Australian to be put in charge of the Australian Corps, John Monash rightly takes his place in history as a prominent wartime hero; the story of the village of Hamel tells you why. The detailed and courageous coordination of his forces, from foot soldiers to aircraft and tanks, resulted in an astounding battle lasting a mere 90 minutes, to take this strategic position back from the Germans. Now, you can see remains of German trenches, photographs and the very moving Australian Corps Memorial.
Where the Cologne river meets the Somme, surrounded by sparkling ponds most wonderfully explored by boat, you’ll find the town of Péronne. Its prettiness belies
its past as a hotly contested battleground, heavily shelled and ultimately hard-won by the Australian forces in 1918. Now, you can check out more than 70,000 historical objects thoughtfully displayed to tell this story at the L’Historial de la Grande Guerre, within the walls of Péronne’s medieval fortress. Explore nearby Mont Saint-Quentin and its Aussie digger statue, memorial to the second Australian Division, overseeing the town’s Avenue des Australiens, as part of its WWI-themed walking tour; linger to ride the 160 kilometres of bicycle paths from Péronne all the way to the sea.
One of the more spectacular sights of the Remembrance Trail is hidden beneath the city of Naours. A subterranean city of tunnels stretching across three kilometres, pre-dating World War I, became a tourist attraction for thousands of Allied soldiers when they were on leave from the fighting. Many left graffiti on the walls of the 300 rooms here, with the 3,000 signatures now immersed in an archaeological project to photograph and catalogue them all – so far, many have been identified as having been left by Australians. A guided tour is a must here, to help you best discover the graffiti, plus explore the underground church and cleverly hidden entrances to this remarkable find.
It all started with a man and his wife – Louis and Antoinette Thuillier, local farmers and keen photographers – who captured the seemingly endless parade of foreign soldiers passing through their town of Vignacourt around 1916-17. More than 4,000 glass-plate negatives were preserved, packed away in their attic until 2011, when Channel 7’s Ross Coulthart and the Sunday Night program visited to uncover them once more. This miraculous collection of images, immortalising a moment in time for so many Australian and other soldiers, is commemorated in an atmospheric little interpretive centre opened in 2018 at the Thuillier family farm.
The ‘Gallipoli’ of the Western Front, 1916’s Battle of Fromelles was catastrophic, with some 7,000 newly arrived Australian and British soldiers losing their lives in a single night, and waiting some two years after that simply for burial. But thanks to a 2009 project that continues to this day, 250 of those men have been moved to the Fromelles Military Cemetery; 100 are still to be identified. You can learn more about the battle at the fascinating Musée de la Bataille de Fromelles. Then, pay your respects at the VC Corner Military Cemetery (the only uniquely Australian military cemetary in France, and a memorial commemorating 1,178 Australians who died in the battle and have no known grave), and take a moment in the moving Australian Memorial Park.
You’re welcomed into town by a banner that reads ‘ANZACs – we will remember them’. Have a beer in Le Canberra pub and pay your respects at the statue of the Bullecourt Digger, at the Australian Memorial on the Rue des Australiens. There is still such a connection with Australians, after two horrific battles here etched the name of Bullecourt on our military history forever; it’s difficult to make it through town without a tear or two. The Quéant Road Cemetery holds almost 1,000 Australian men, though only 299 have been named. The Musée Jean & Denise Letaille Bullecourt 1917 has recently been upgraded, assisted by the Australian government.
Of all the places where Australians fought on the Western Front, Villers-Bretonneux is perhaps the best known to Australians today. This is partly because Villers- Bretonneux was a turning point in 1918, both for the Australian troops and the (mostly) British generals commanding them. After the German Spring offensive, the Australian and British counter- attack retook the town of Amiens in one night of brutal hand to hand combat. The 5,000 inhabitants of the village vowed not to forget les Australiens. This contributed to the decision to establish the main Australian Memorial on Hill 104, just north of the village. For Victorians, Villers-Bretonneux has a special status, because so many of the Australian soldiers who died here were from Victoria. Many Australians, including school groups, come here every year to pay their respects. A dawn service has been held here on Anzac Day since 2008 and commemorative events continue over several days. There is even an annual Australian Rules Football match, played on ground that Australian soldiers once fought over.
SIR JOHN MONASH CENTRE
General John Monash so obviously changed the course of the war with his leadership, he was knighted in the field to become Sir John Monash. A century later, the newly minted Sir John Monash Centre aptly and gloriously reflects upon his legacy, set among the former battlefield of Villers-Bretonneux. A visit to the nearby Australian National Memorial, inscribed with the names of more than 10,000 Australian fallen who have no gravesite, is extremely emotional. As is pausing at the infamous Villers-Bretonneux military cemetery. But it is the multimedia exhibits, soundscapes and immersive 360-degree theatre of the Sir John Monash Centre that will truly inscribe your soul.
Between 1914 and 1918, the frontlines of battle were never further than 10 kilometres from Arras. In 1916, a year of terrible losses, enterprising New Zealander tunnellers made use of the old chalk mines beneath Arras to form a subterranean network of chambers that held up to 24,000 Allied soldiers safe. You can tour these tunnels, and the ancient Les Boves caves beneath the town hall itself, too.
The truly amazing Wellington Tunnels - an underground city of ancient quarry tunnels which hid thousands of Allied soldiers in WWI – are not to be missed.