Following Australian Footsteps on the WW1 Western Front

Bullecourt to Fromelles

Off the main street of Baupame heading toward Bullecourt I noticed a sign leading to the Baupame Australian Cemetery. This small cemetery is located on a crossroad between farms but is nevertheless as well kept as any of the larger cemeteries I have come across. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is to be commended for the way they have maintained the reverence of these significant sites.

Next stop Bullecourt. During the first battle on 11 April 1917 the 4th Division AIF lost 4,170 men in one day; 1170 prisoners and 3,000 killed. During the course of the second battle in May, Australia lost 7,000 soldiers.

In 1997 a signposted trail through the Australian battlefield was devised and constructed by various Government bodies in France in association with the Paddington Woolahra RSL and Hornsby RSL in New South Wales, to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the battles around Bullecourt.

The Bullecourt Digger memorial, was erected between 1992 and 1993 by the Australian Government, as a tribute to “hope, pride and optimism.” The commemorative plaque reads:

“Sacred to the memory of the 10,000 members of the Australian Imperial Forces who were killed or wounded in the two battles of Bullecourt, April – May 1917, and to the Australians dead and their comrades-in-arms who lie here forever in the soil of France. ‘Lest we forget’.”

On my way down from Messines the previous day I had missed the turn off to Fromelles, to the West of Lille. The motorway traffic moves very fast and without a navigator I found it difficult. Basically you have a rough idea where you are and where you want to go. You see the turn off you think you need, but do not recognise any of the towns listed, so with a degree of doubt you miss the turn off. Hence I had to back track to Fromelles. After my experience of wasting time driving around in circles, I made a point of buying Michelin Map no. 236 covering Nord, Flandres-Artois Picardie. This map has a 1cm:2km scale which I found to be very helpful, and obviously better than the Michelin Map no. 916 which covers France at a scale of 1cm:10km. No wonder I missed the turn off. I had purchased IGN Map no. 28 for my travels around Ypres and Messines, it was a great help in finding sites but at a scale of 1cm:500m it was difficult to drive to as I kept on driving past places I thought were further away. Next time I visit hopefully my wife will accompany me and help with the directions.

On the way I took time to visit the spectacular Canadian Memorial at Vimy Ridge. Then after getting lost in the motorway junctions around Lens I finally made it to Fromelles.

The Australian Memorial is located a couple of kilometres out of town and is the site of the first Australian attack in France on 19-20 July 1916. The VC Corner Australian Cemetery has no headstones and is the only all-Australian cemetery in France. Records show that the screen wall bears the names of 1,299 Australians who died in the ill-fated Battle of Fromelles and have no known grave. The unidentified bodies of 410 of them are buried under the lawns.

It was great to see the work being carried out by the Australian Department of Veterans’ Affairs to ensure that exploits of Australian soldiers are remembered by future generations. The Australian Memorial Park is located next to the VC Corner Australian Cemetery near Fromelles and is due to open in July 1998.

After heading south through Bethune, Arras and Doullens I stopped off in Amiens to visit the magnificent Notre-Dame Catherdral. It is roughly twice as big as Notre-Dame in Paris and is very impressive to say the least.

Continue: Villers-Bretonneux to Mouquet Farm