Following Australian Footsteps on the WW1 Western Front

The Western Front

Much has changed in the twenty years or so since my first visit to the Western Front in 1998.

Greater attention through public interest, education curriculum, and ultimately the 100th anniversary of the First World War has certainly raised awareness of the Western Front and the action and loss of a generation of fine young men and women.

In the past 20 years there have been a significant number of commemorations and new exhibits focused on allied efforts on the Western Front – including:

  • The discovery of the mass grave at Pleasant Wood, Fromelles
  • The establishment of the Fromelles (Pleasant Wood) Military Cemetery
  • The Memorial Museum Passchendaele, 1917, Zonnebeke
  • Renovation of the Frnco-Australian Museum, Villers-Bretonneux, France
  • Plugstreet 14-18 Experience, Ploegsteert, Belgium
  • Remediation Works at the Australian Corps Memorial Park at Le Hamel, France
  • New interpretive facilities at the 1st Australian Division Memorial at Pozieres, France
  • Battle of Fromelles Museum, Fromelles, France
  • Tyne Cot Cemetery Visitors Centre, Zonnebeke, Belgium
  • Ljssenthoek Military Cemetery & Visitors Centre, Poperinge, Belgium

There have also been numerous articles and books printed and published about World War 1 in the last decade or so. The growth of the Internet and thus the ability to share information has been very helpful for the amateur historian or someone tracing family history.

There were limited resources when I made my first visit, now I can hone into specific areas of interest with relative ease.

I relied heavily on the booklet “A Guide to Australian Memorials on the Western front, in France and Belgium”, produced by the Office of Australian War Graves for my first visit back in 1998.

For my 2017 trip to the Western Front to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Messines, I will also be following the Australian Remembrance Trail as developed and published online by the Australian Government Department of Veterans Affairs.

Reflection on the Western Front

In May 1998 I first had the opportunity to visit the Western Front and follow my grandfather’s and other Australian footsteps left on the Western Front in the North of France and Belgium. I am pleased and proud to say I took the time to visit this historically significant region.

From my point of view, Australia’s military heritage is focused on our baptism of fire at Gallipoli. Whilst other campaigns in World War 1 and 2, Korea, and Vietnam are remembered, little attention seems to be paid to those Australians killed or wounded on the dreadful battlefields of the Western Front from 1916 to 1918.

The major campaigns of World War 1 appear as names on War Memorials however they held little meaning to me, until I started taking an interest in where my Grandfather and other Australians fought.

In recent years the Gallipoli peninsula has become a Mecca for Australian and New Zealand travellers, particularly on ANZAC day. I hope to get there myself someday. Their attendance honours the loss suffered by all those young men who fought and died there. However I wonder how many are aware of the huge number of similar young men buried or listed without a known grave in the numerous cemeteries that cover the Western Front. I certainly was not.

My personal journey of discovery was greatly assisted by the Office of Australian War Graves which produced a very handy booklet entitled “A Guide to Australian Memorials on the Western front, in France and Belgium”, and Tom Morgan who developed and edits the Hellfire Corner web site. His prompt e-mails to my requests for information were full of suggestions and advice that was very helpful indeed.

The following recollection is not as detailed as “Tom Morgan’s Somme Diary”, nor is it meant to be a definitive guide to Australian sites on the Western Front, it is merely notes on my own trip through the region.