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Webmatters : Bullecourt 1917, walking the battlefield
Rough Map of Area

Bullecourt


Bullecourt Church

Bullecourt Church

Bullecourt Today

This is quite a close knit battlefield, and if you are pushed for time much can be accomplished in a vehicle.

To visit the neighbouring villages and the cemeteries a vehicle will be needed.

The village is easily accessed and the monuments and sites are well sign posted. Approaching from Écoust you will note the water tower with its commemorative inscription. Just before it is the start of the Australian Trail along the former railway embankment.

The easiest place to park your car is near the church in Bullecourt. Here you will also see some explanatory panels showing some of the possible walks in the area.

The walk described below will take a couple of hours so ensure that all valuables are locked away out of sight. You will want good walking shoes as in places it can be muddy. Don’t forget water and perhaps a snack.

The church of St Vaast (a local saint) was, like the rest of the village, completely destroyed and had to rebuilt after the war. There is a small memorial to the Commonwealth soldiers inside.

Bullecourt Church

Just to the right of the church entrance is the Slouch Hat Memorial dedicated to the British and Australian Divisions that fought here during both battles.

Whilst Australians tend to claim Bullecourt for themselves it should be remembered that it was actually British units that did the fighting to capture the village.

To the right by the wall is a monument to the men of D Battalion HBMGC (The tank crews) who served and fell in both battles.

Opposite in front of the Mairie is the village memorial.


Walking the Australian battlefield

A quick tour of the village

Walk out past the Canberra Café towards the water tower on the road to Écoust. Remember that in France you should be walking on the left side of the road to face oncoming traffic

Just after the water tower you will see a small Trail Post with an arrow on it pointing along the Australian Trail to your left. This is part of the embankment of the former Boisleux-Marquion Railway.

Turn onto the trail and pass the wooden barrier.

Along the Railway Embankment

Embankment of the former Boisleux-Marquion Railway

This initial stretch of the embankment was the jumping off area of the 2/6th West Yorkshire during Second Bullecourt. Bullecourt is easily visible just to your left whilst on your right you can see the church spire at Noreuil.

The track quickly becomes a real embankment and you can appreciate the comparative safety that could be found behind it.

As the track bends away to the right you can see the sunken road on the left as it leaves Bullecourt. On the 3rd May 1917 the 26th Bn AIF were situated here at the embankment whilst the 22nd and 21st Battalions were ranged between the road and the line.

 

The Digger Memorial on the left

The Digger Memorial with its flagpoles on the left

You should now be able to see the Digger Memorial with its flagpoles on the horizon. The Hindenburg front line (OG1 to the Australians) was just in front of it with the support line (OG2) just behind.

The Trail markers will now suggest you turn right towards Noreuil. If you want to walk down towards Noreuil then take the route. It will eventually bring you back out of Noreuil to the Central Road (Where you need to follow the ‘short’ route arrow).

Central Road crossing from bottom (Noreuil) to top (Riencourt)

Looking back down the embankment towards the water tower
Central Road crossing from bottom (Noreuil) to top (Riencourt)

Otherwise continue along the embankment and then alongside the field to its right. Continue along the track until you reach another which crosses your path. This is Central Road leading up from Igri Corner in Noreuil where the Australians had a large munitions dump. In this area of the embankment Brigadier General John Gellibrand had his HQ for the opening of Second Bullecourt.

Near Central Road and Gellibrand's HQ

Near Central Road and Gellibrand’s HQ

Turn left and walk northwards towards Riencourt. The general protection provided by the embankment is readily evident as you look back.

A short distance and you come to another wee crossroads. This is the Sunken Road coming in from your left and is the one that Captain Bert Jacka VC identified during his patrols prior to First Bullecourt.

The Sunken Road as viewed from Central Road

The Sunken Road coming out of Bullecourt

Just to your right there is another track coming through the railway embankment; this was the secondary route towards Riencourt leading eventually today to an oratoire (small chapel).

The open ground between these two tracks to Riencourt was the area assaulted by the 14th Bn AIF on the 11th April and the 17th Bn on the 3rd May 1917. It was also across here that Captain Gilchrist rallied the men of the 5th Brigade and led them back towards the German lines.

 

Looking towards the German lines from the Sunken Road

Looking towards the German lines from the Sunken Road

If you wish you can walk a few hundred metres down the sunken road to where it is embedded into the field. There is a good view of the ground over which the left hand brigades advanced during both battles.

As an indicator remember that the memorial is situated between the two German lines.

Come back if necessary to the Central Road and walk out towards Riencourt which is visible in front of you. Using the Digger monument as a marker you will be able to make out the Diagonal Road coming in from the left.

 

Bullecourt Church, Digger Memorial and Cross Memorial

Bullecourt Church, Digger Memorial and Cross Memorial (on the far right)

As you reach a point where the monument is almost immediately on your left this is the approximate position where OG1 (the German front line) crossed the track.

It would be near here that Corporal Howell dashed across the top towards your right showering the German counter-attackers in the trench with grenades – an action for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

Another couple of hundred metres and you reach the point where OG2 (the German support line) crossed Central road heading towards the Cross Memorial on Diagonal Road (Which you may be able to see within a small clump of trees).

You will have noticed as you have walked along the track as to how well it protects you from view from the right. If you look back you can make out the railway embankment but you will notice that the Sunken Road is now all but invisible to the eye.

You will now reach Six Cross Roads with Riencourt only a few hundred metres further up towards your right. Looking in that direction you will notice the fields off to your left. It was here that Captain Maxfield managed to set up his advanced post on the 3rd May.

The Cross Memorial and Riencourt

Cross Memorial and Riencourt

Turn left and walk back towards Bullecourt. At the Cross Memorial you reach the point where OG2 cut across the road and the area in which the Australians had so much fighting trying to push further down the trench towards Bullecourt.


The Digger Monument at Bullecourt

The Digger Memorial

The memorial was erected by the Arras Branch of Souvenir Français and has had numerous plaques added to it. You will notice one in remembrance to Major Percy Black who was killed leading his men into the wire of OG2.

In the fields opposite is the area in which Lieutenant Rupert Moon stormed the German position with such bravery that he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

It was also in this section of the German line that the 48th Bn AIF held out throughout the morning of the 11th April having eventually to fight their way back to the Australian lines leaving their commander Captain Allan Leane behind as one of the casualties.

Continue down the road and visit the Australian Memorial Park.

The Digger Memorial is located between the German front and support lines and is dedicated to the memory of the thousands of Australians killed and wounded in the two battles of Bullecourt in 1917, and to their comrades who fell and lie forever in the soil of France.

As you continue back into Bullecourt you will notice another track coming in from the right. Where it meets the road, OG2 branched off to run behind the village.

Turn left at the junction and it is now but a short walk back to your vehicle at the Slouch Hat Memorial.