Villers Bretonneux

Australians on the Somme

Following the main N29 road eastwards out of Amiens towards Peronne you come to the small town of Villers-Bretonneux. The town featured prominently in the German spring offensive of 1918. In April that year the Germans made their second concerted effort to gain Paris.

In places along the line they were to come closer than they had managed in the original 1914 advance.

Villers-Bretonneux fell on 24 April but the Australian Corps managed to regain the town the following day. From then until 8 August when the Fourth Army sprang a surprise counter attack, the area became part of the familiar trench system stretching from the Atlantic coast to Switzerland.

The battles for Villers-Bretonneux marked the appearance of German tanks and also the British light tank the Whippet. For the first time ever, tank faced tank in battle. That August 400 tanks (including 72 Whippets) took part in the counter attack and with their help the Fourth Army made swift progress across the low lying countryside.

The Tank Battle Monument The Tank Battle Monument

The Franco-Australian Museum

The plaque on the village school

Since 1918 there has been a close tie between Villers-Bretonneux and Melbourne, and the Sir William Leggatt museum can be found on Rue Victoria in the centre of the town.

The Franco-Australian Museum The Franco-Australian Museum

There is a small plaque on the school housing the museum, showing that the building was given by children of the 1 200 Australians from Victoria, who died defending and recapturing the town.

The Australian Memorial

The Australian War Memorial

From the crossroads in the town take the turning for Corbie, and high on the hill about 3km from Villers-Bretonneux you will find the Australian National Memorial with (If it is reasonably clear) a view to the west of Amiens.

You will find to the left of the green, a bronze relief map of the area showing the German spring offensive and the counter attack.

Services are held here on the Saturday before ANZAC day (25 April) commemorating the battles of April and August.

The Australian Memorial The Australian Memorial

As a foot note, the Australian Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux was unveiled by King George VI on 22 July 1938.

Within 14 months Europe was back at war and Villers-Bretonneux was to be held by the Germans for the best part of five years rather than the one night.

Australia's Unkown Soldier

Australia's Unknown Soldier

On 2 November 1993 at a special ceremony the remains of an unknown Australian soldier were brought to the Memorial and handed over to Australian officials. This soldier was taken home to Canberra where he now lies in the National War Memorial - as Australia's unknown soldier.

The flag and hat used to cover his coffin are now in the Museum.

His original grave at Grave 13 in Row M of Adelaide Cemetery, is now marked with a special headstone. This small cemetery should you wish to visit it, is back in Villers-Bretonneux on the Amiens Road.

It is signposted, but is slightly back from the road, and like me you could be nearly past it before spotting it.

Adelaide Cemetery Adelaide Cemetery