Australian Battlefields of World War 1 Tour France and Belgium 2020
When Australian troops were deployed to the Western Front in France and Belgium in 1916, the war had been going there for two years; there was an unbroken line of trenches from the Belgian coast to the Swiss border. To the east stood Germany. To the West stood the French, British, Belgian and Portuguese allies. This line was established in 1914, and had not moved much.
The four Australian Divisions, only two of which were fully combat experienced, were committed to Field Marshal Haig's 1916 offensive under British generals whose training and experience had been in the conflicts of a past century. Our soldiers fought hard but tactical, technical and command shortcomings meant many lives were lost for little gain.
In the next two years, our soldiers and their commanders learned their trade better than most of the others. Perhaps it was a kind of egalitarian spirit growing up in a society where authority tended to be discounted by the need to tame a savage environment. Perhaps it was a lack of military tradition that favoured innovation over the time honoured. Nonetheless in 1918, it was the Australian Corps of five divisions commanded by a brilliant engineer, a first generation Australian of Central European Jewish heritage (General Monash), who showed the World how the war could be won and played a large part in the 100 day offensive that forced its conclusion.
On this tour you will follow the course of Australia's War from the horrendous losses at Fromelles and Pozieres in 1916 to the turning points at Dernancourt and Villers-Bretonneux early in 1918 then to the triumph of the Battles of Amiens and great bend of the Somme. We will follow the footsteps of our soldiers to the furthest place east they reached, Montbrehain.
The service Battlefield History tours is renown for is making certain you get to visit the areas where your ancestors fought. Let us know who your ancestors were and we will make certain, within the scope of the tour, that you get walk in their footsteps. If they paid the ultimate price, a grave or memorial site visit will be facilitated where possible.
Cost: Tour from $4,995.00 (9 days / 8 nights) per person twin share, single supplement $(AU)750.00. (Price may vary due to volatility of the Australian Dollar on the international currency market.)
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20 April 2020 - PARIS: This is the day when guests gather at our Paris hotel and are met by their historian/guide. The day and evening are free to relax and meet other guests.
21 April 2020 – PARIS to IEPER: We will depart the hotel at 0830, heading north to our first stop, the Glade of the Armistice at Compiegne, scene of the signing of the Armistice on 11 November 1918, and 22 years later the surrender of France to another invading German Army on 25 June 1940.
Then on to Vimy Ridge, and the spectacular Canadian National Memorial. This is an expansive park and the battlefield is preserved as it was in 1918.
Next stop the battlefield at Fromelles, before visiting Pheasant Wood cemetery and museum. The cemetery is the newest on the Western Front, opened in 2010.
Our final leg will take us to our base for the next few days, Ieper. We will have dinner in our Hotel before a short walk to witness the Last Post ceremony at Menin Gate. (B/Boxed Lunch/D).
22 April 2020 - IEPER: The first of our two (2) days touring the Ieper Salient battles.
Our first call will be to visit Hill 60, the northernmost of the mines fired in the Messines operation and featured in the movie, Beneath Hill 60. Then south to the battlefield of Messines Ridge. Nearby it's on to Ploegsteert Wood, via Prowse Point - scene of the 1914 XMAS Truce. Toronto Avenue Cemetery is located within the Wood. It is the only all-Australian cemetery in Belgium. Through the Wood passed much of the Third Division on their way to the start line for the attack.
Following these visits we will return to Ieper. Free time in Ieper. Walk along the wall, quiet reflection around Menin gate, Cloth Hall museum. We can again attend the Menin Gate ceremony this evening. (B/Boxed Lunch/D).
23 April 2020 - IEPER – The SOMME: Our last day on the Salient battlefields will take us to Polygon Wood, Passchendaele and finally a visit to Tyne Cot Cemetery, the largest Commonwealth Cemetery on the Western Front. It sits on ground captured by the Australians and the Cross of Sacrifice is built over a German blockhouse, overlooking the site where Sgt McIntyre won his VC. Following those visits we head south to Peronne for our time in the Somme Battlefields. Dinner in our hotel. (B/Boxed Lunch/D).
24 April 2019 - THE SOMME: To introduce the Australian Western Front experience we will visit the newly opened Sir John Monash Centre at Villers Bretonneux. Then a very busy day as we will visit most of the areas of the 1916 battles including; La Boiselle and 'La Grand Mine' Lochnagar, Pozieres, Mouquet Farm, Theipval, Beaumont Hamel. We will then return to Peronne and a visit to L'Historial around the corner from our hotel, where we will regroup for dinner. (B/Boxed Lunch/D).
25 April 2020 - ANZAC DAY - THE SOMME: ANZAC Day: on the 102nd Anniversary of the Australian attack on Villers-Bretonneux. An early wake up call then coffee and tea in your hotel before we board for the Dawn Service. On arrival you will get the chance to grab a coffee and croissant before being ushered into the area at the base of the Memorial for the traditional Dawn Service. At the completion of the Service there will be time at the Memorial to inspect the area before our coach arrives to take us into Villers-Bretonneux.
In Villers-Bretonneux village there will be conducted an ANZAC Day March to the town square. Following the March we will have breakfast courtesy local vendors. Following breakfast we return to our hotel and the afternoon is free to relax less there is an opportunity to attend any other Government Service that is planned. Dinner is in your hotel. (D).
26 April 2020 - THE SOMME: We will firstly head to Bullecourt, site of the tragedy in May 1917 where the Australians working with Tanks for the first time were not impressed.
A drive to Dernancourt will follow. This major Australian defensive battle was where the German advance of March 1918 was finally halted.
After Dernancourt we head to Sailly le Sec where we pick up Monash's Advance to Victory in 1918. This is the site where Monash's 3 Div covered the front where the German advance reached its zenith.
Moving South we visit the ridge above the village of Le Hamel. The site where the Australian Corps gave the first lightening war display. Here with minimal casualties, the world was shown how by bringing together the capabilities of every weapon to best effect, a position could be assaulted and taken.
A short drive to the Australian National Memorial, Villers-Bretonneaux and the forest near Cachy will let us discuss the action of the 13 and 15 Brigades that on 24 and 25 April 1918 where the German Army was expelled from the town, some say, a turning point in the war. Moving into the town, we will visit the Adelaide Cemetery and the, Museum above Victoria School. After a long day we will return to our hotel for dinner. (B/Boxed Lunch/D).
27 April 2020 - THE SOMME: Today, you will again be led through the Somme battlefields of 1918 by your historian. Our plan today is to visit Heath Cemetery Harbonnieres, where we will discuss the battle of Amiens, a visit to the German cemetery at Proyart then on to the Great Bend in the Somme for Mont St Quentin, followed by the Hindenburg Outpost Line at Bellenglise, the Hindenburg Line at the St Quentin Canal, Riqueval, and where the Australian Corps under General Monash finished their war at Montbrehain befor heading back to our hotel for dinner. B/Boxed Lunch/D.
29 April 2020 -THE SOMME to PARIS: This morning after breakfast in our hotel our coach will be returning most to Paris. Paris would be an ideal location to plan to travel on, the drop will be at Charles de Gaulle Airport for connection to train and air services. B
Your Tour Leader Lieutenant Colonel John Howells OAM RFD (Ret'd)
John is a retired Army Reserve Armoured Corps officer who served 32 years in the Defence Force Permanent and Reserve. In civil life he worked for the National Archives as a manager then major Banks managing IT systems.
He has worked on and led battlefield tours since 2008 to locations including Turkey, France, Greece, South Africa and the Solomon Islands.