Battlefield History Tours

Battlefield History Tours
Incorporating History and Heritage tours

Western Front to Normandy Tour on 17 September 2019


Today we bade farewell to Peronne heading to Belgium via the 'central' sector of the front around Arras.

First stop one of the 'Outpost Villages' at Noreuil, which exacted a heavy toll among the 50th Battalion junior officers. Noreuil was the objective of an attack on 2 April 1917 by the 13th Brigade of the 4th Division, with the 50th and 51st Battalions leading and the other two (49th and 52nd) in reserve.

Many of the casualties had been 10th Battalion originals were Gallipoli veterans and had been promoted from the ranks when they moved over to the 'pup' Battalion of the 10th, the 50th Infantry Battalion. Included among these men was Lieutenant Wilfrid Oswald Jose, one of a section of men among the first ashore at Gallipoli nearly two years previously.

An excellent account of the battle was written by Major Harry Seager to the father of Captain Harold Armitage, a company commander at Noreuil who was killed during the course of the battle.

The Noreuil 'Australian Cemetery' is largely comprised of the graves of men of the 50th and 51st Battalions killed in the attack. It is also notable for 82 headstones along two sides of the cemetery as memorials to men formerly believed to have been buried in the cemetery but whose original graves were lost in subsequent fighting in the area. See this LINK.

From there our group headed to Bullecourt to view the Bullecourt Digger statue and the Slouch Hat memorial. We viewed the battlefield over which the attacks of 10-12 April and 3-17 May were conducted and drove out onto the battlefield to get a view from the Australian start line from the old railway embankment.

From Bullecourt we continued our journey north to the Canadian National Memorial at Vimy Ridge which never fails to impress visitors, including ours. The adjacent area, like Beaumont Hamel in the Somme, is well preserved and re-creations of the trench lines amidst the original mine and shell craters is very well done indeed. For the first time since Steve Larkins visited it over 30 years ago this site has at last been eclipsed by the Sir John Monash Centre; but this is still an impressive place.

Most powerful though is the spectacular monument dominating the skyline and commanding wonderful views to the north, making it immediately apparent why possession of it was so important. After lunch we continued on our way.

Fromelles is now a well-known battle. Although the Pheasant Wood museum was closed we called in to visit the cemetery, the newest on the Western Front. We visited each of the key sites in turn.

After the Memorial Park and while skirting the edge of an adjacent paddock to get to VC Corner Cemetery, eagle-eyed Chontelle Scott earned immeasurable kudos by finding one of the few 'safe' battlefield souvenirs that can be encountered, a detached fired 18 pounder shrapnel shell fuze protruding from the dirt. It certainly made son Zac's day.

At Rue Petillon Cemetery, the fates of two sets of brothers from Adelaide were explained. The three Choat brothers and the two Knight brothers from adjacent suburbs in Adelaide's inner south. The Knight brothers Alfred and Tom, died three weeks apart prior to the 19/20th July in separate battalions (the 52nd and 32nd) in different Divisions (4th and 5th) but probably not more than 3-400m apart. They are buried in adjacent rows of the Rue Petillon cemetery.

The three Choat brothers had consecutive serial numbers and all were in A Company 32nd Battalion. One can only imagine their grief when the parents received three telegrams advising their three sons were missing or killed. Oldest brother Raymond is named on the wall at VC Corner. Archie is buried at Rue Petillon. The third, Wesley, turned out to have been captured as a PoW but became one of the few who successfully escaped from captivity back to the UK after an earlier unsuccessful attempt. On the testimony of his comrades, he was awarded the Military Medal and repatriated back to Australia, one of the few pieces of good news out of the Fromelles saga.

From Fromelles it was north once again towards our final destination for the day and our accommodation at the Novotel in Ieper.

By this stage we were feeling a little weary. After checking in at the Hotel Regina right on the square, we had dinner in the hotel restaurant before we headed for the Last Post Ceremony after which some of us opted for an early night and others decided to sample the nightlife of Ieper.

Steve Larkins


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