Following Australian Footsteps on the WW1 Western Front

Pozieres to Bellenglise

After visiting the Ulster Memorial and the British National Memorial at Thiepval I paid homage to the two main Australian sites in Pozieres. The 1st Division Memorial is easily seen just off the Albert-Bapaume Road on the way to Albert, whereas “The Windmill Site” lies on the edge of the same road just to the north on the way to Bapaume.

The engraving on the bench at the “Windmill Site” reads:

“The ruin of Pozieres windmill which lies here was the centre of the struggles in this part of the Somme battlefield in July and August 1916. It was captured on 4th August by Australian troops, who fell more thickly on this ridge than any other.”

At the “Windmill Site” I came across an Australian tour group, being escorted around significant Australian battlefield sites by a member of the Australian War Memorial staff. The Australian War Memorial, based in Canberra operates escorted tours to the Western Front which have proved to be very popular. Whilst I was at the “Windmill Site” the tour escort was reading a harrowing extract from the war diaries of an officer who fought here.

In Albert, I parked outside the church on which the new ‘Golden Madonna’ stands. Spent time in the interesting Museum, by the church and after emerging on the other side of the square found my way back to my car and drove to the 3rd Division Memorial. This obelisk is similar to other Australian memorials in France and Australia; and is situated on a ridge North of the Somme River near the town of Sailly-le-Sec, on the Bray- Corbie road.

On the way to revisit the Australian National Memorial at Villers- Bretonneux I stopped at le Hamel, the site of one of Australia’s most successful battles. Fought on 4th July 1918, my guidebook notes that ‘entirely under Australian planning and command, the victory established the pattern for Allied operations on the Western Front.’

In memory of the Australians who fought here and in other parts of France, the Australian Government is building an Australian Corps Memorial Park on the hill overlooking le Hamel.

The park is due to open in July 1998 and will act as a focal point for Australian visitors to the 1918 battlefields. When complete the Park will contain a walking track past a series of interpretative panels as well as a central commemorative area. I look forward to returning one day and seeing the final result.

Just out of Peronne I completed my circle of the Western Front. There were two more Australian sights I wanted to see before setting my mind on the long drive back to Frankfurt.
The 2nd Division Memorial stands on a ridge overlooking Peronne in the village of Mont St Quentin on the Bapaume-Peronne Road. Peronne was captured by the AIF early in September 1918 in an operation linked to the taking of Mont St Quentin. Apparently the bronze Digger replaces the original statue which depicted a Digger about to bayonet a German eagle. The Germans removed it during their occupation in 1940.

Finally, the 4th Division obelisk; the easternmost of all AIF Memorials. Located on the top of a hill off a farm road near Bellenglise, this Memorial stands near the former Hindenburg Line.

Peacefully situated on a hill surrounded by crops, its sentinel presence, seems to sum up my experiences pretty well. The world has progressed, crops have been sown, life goes on, but the serenity of the place has been kept. Respect has been shown. I have been amazed at the number of Memorials scattered around the fields of France and Belgium. I have been impressed at how well they have been maintained. I have been bewildered to think of the death and suffering inflicted on and by both sides.

But most of all I am pleased to say, I have remembered them.