Todays visits took in key 1918 sites beginning with the small town of Dernancourt just SW of Albert, scene of fierce fighting in early April 1918 as the 4th Division held off the largest assault faced by Australian forces in the Great War. The battlefield is relatively compact and defined by the amphitheatre like ground on which they Australians were deployed bounded by the railway embankment on the edge of the town.
Next stop the 3rd Division Memorial near Saily le Sec. We benefited from the diaries of one of our tour members, Peter Zillman whose father served in the 3rd Machine Gun Battalion. He and his mates recalled the area here with some fondness having spent nearly 3 months here in the summer of 1918, in the lead up to the 8th August, perhaps explaining why the site was chosen after the war as the location of the Divisions Memorial.
With an adjustment to our schedule we headed for the National Memorial to the Missing in France at Villers Bretonneaux. The weather by this stage had delivered the magnificent view for which this location is well known. Repair work on the Wall of Remembrance and the construction work relating to the Monash Centre were in evidence so we chose to conduct a wreath laying on the Cross of Sacrifice, commemorating a total of four relatives of Tour Members Peter Neuhaus and Mark Fairleigh.
We then visited the Adelaide Cemetery at Villers Bretonneaux where we chose to pause for lunch. This site overlooks the assembly area and start line for a part of the Australian frontage for the counter attack of 24/5 April 1918, and contains the graves of many of the dead from the battle. Perhaps the Unknown Soldier, taken to Australia from here in 1992, was one of the men who fell in this crucial battle?
The next stop was the School Museum which presents very differently to how many would recall it from years past. It has been very professionally curated under the oversight of the local Trust that is responsible for it.
From VB we called in to Le Hamel to inspect the memorial which replaced the original opened in 1998, but which subsequently succumbed to the weather and was replaced in the early 2000s. The site provides an excellent view of the Battlefield, explained by guide Steve Larkins.
Heath Cemetery and its two VC winners provided the site for an explanation of the August offensive and the start of the ‘Hundred Days’ campaign.
Our program today concluded on the heights of Mont St Quentin overlooking the town of Peronne. The scope and scale of this incredible feat of arms was covered across three locations here.
Dominic welcomed us for dinner at the L’Historial as a fitting finale to our day.