Back to the Western Front.
My initial trip to the Western Front in 1998 was based on the notion of following my grandfather’s footsteps in World War 1 and to visit Messines where he was wounded in 1917.
Since Tom Morgan listed my trip comments on his Hellfire Corner website in mid 1998, I have been gratified by the number of emails I have received from people around the world commenting on their connection with the Western Front and in particular Australia’s involvement in this theatre of war.
I receive regular emails from students and people keen to trace their own family connections to the Western Front. I appreciate the emails and am willing to assist wherever I can.
I am embarrassed to recall on my first night in the Somme in 1998, I was asked by an Englishman, if any Australians fought in the area. Through sheer ignorance I told him that we were more involved to the north (around Ypres) and west (around Villers-Bretonneux). The next day I visited Pozieres, Monquet Farm and the Windmill site, all major Australian battlefields on the Somme in July and August 1916. I wanted to meet the person again and correct my earlier comments, however given the existing memorials at these sites hopefully he found out for himself.
During my time on the Western Front in 1998, I took the opportunity to visit the memorials to all 5 Australian Divisions plus major Australian battlefield sites such as Fromelles, Bullecourt, Polygon Wood, Passchendaele, Pozieres, Monquet Farm, Windmill site, Bapaume, le Hamel and Villers-Bretonneux, Mont St Quentin and Peronne.
I think it is fair to say that most Australians consider Gallipoli as our major campaign of World War One, however in recent years, through education, family history and general awareness, Australians seem to have begun to appreciate the significance of the Western Front in our military history.
Regular emails and exposure through Tom’s site whetted my appetite to learn more about the Western Front and not just rely on the memory of one short trip.
I am pleased to say that I have had the opportunity to return to the Western Front on two separate occasions since 1998. These return visits in 2000 and 2003 have enabled me to revisit areas of interest as well as witness the increased recognition of the significance of the Western Front in our modern history. New Australian memorials at Fromelles and le Hamel and other new or revamped National sites of remembrance are testament to this.
In 2000 I travelled along the Western Front with an Australian business colleague. Our trip started in Brussels, and the battlefield of Waterloo (worth a side trip if you are in the area). Overnight stays in Ypres and the Somme allowed us time to visit Tyne Cot, Ypres, attend the Last Post at Menin Gate, the local museum at Bullecourt and various significant Australian sites I had not visited before such as Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, Pool of Peace and the Lochnagar Crater.
In 2003 I had the good fortune to meet Tom Morgan in Ypres while he was on tour with a group of students. I had emailed him on the off chance that he may be in the area at the same time as me. Fortunately my one day in Ypres coincided with his. After 5 years of email correspondence it was great to finally meet him. Where did we arrange to meet? In Flanders Field (museum) of course.
My two day trip did not allow me a lot of time. However after flying into Paris from Australia I was able to pick up a car from Charles de Gaulle Airport and head north to Peronne in time for the opening of the “Historial”. Visits to the great little museum at Villers-Bretonneux and the Australian Memorial at le Hamel plus other sites along the way meant I arrived in Ypres before nightfall (despite traffic hassles in the suburban sprawl of Lille) and in time for the Last Post at Menin Gate (still as moving the third time round).
The following day I met Tom for coffee and a chat. We walked down to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission office to collect some wreaths for his student group. While there I took the opportunity to purchase some overlaid maps showing the location of all Commonwealth War Grave Sites on the Western Front.
After saying farewell to Tom I visited the Yorkshire Trench just out of Ypres that the Belgium “Diggers” recently restored and took time to visit the major German cemetery at Langemarck. The return trip to Paris was by way of Messines and Fromelles.
The two day, one night trip from Paris was straightforward however next time I will hire a small or medium car rather than a compact Micro. Because of distances involved I had to spend some time on the Motorway. Unfortunately the Mirco hire car was cheap but not really suitable for driving on the Motorway. The rubber band was humming away and I could not get any further right, all the trucks had to overtake me.
Obviously there will always be more knowledgeable people than me, who know the campaigns and the military history of the region. However I am satisfied in the knowledge that I have had the opportunity to revisit the Western Front and in some small way provide an insight into what the Western Front means to me, an average Australian.
I would like to think that in some small way my comments on the Hellfire Corner site have helped foster a desire to appreciate and understand more about Australia’s involvement on the Western Front in World War One.