australian national memorial villers-bretonneux

The Australian National Memorial is an important remembrance place for all the Australians who died on the First World War Western front.

It is located in Villers – Bretonneux, close to Amiens (which enjoys one of the most remarkable Cathedral in France) in Northern France, one  and a half  hour drive from Paris.

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The Australian National Memorial stands on a rise known as ” Hill 104 “, which became prominent in Australian military history when it was secured during the recapture of Villers -Bretonneux on 24 – 25 April 1918 .  Thereafter, it was part of the line from which the Australian Corps, under General Monash, successfully advanced in the Battle of Amiens on August 1918 . After the war, it became the chosen location for the Australian National Memorial.

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Several months of trench warfare followed before the Australian Corps, flanked by the Canadian Corps, attacked from the village on 8 August in the first, and highly successful, stage of the advance to victory.

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Western Front ( World War 1 )

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This cemetery contains the graves of 1089 British, 779 Australian….

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267 Canadian, 2 New Zealand and 4 South African soldiers, sailors and airmen.

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The Australian National War Memorial stands in this cemetery.

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It commemorates both of the feats of arms of the Australian Imperial Force on the Western Front and,

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by name, 10,797 Australian soldiers who fell on the battlefields of the Somme and Arras and the advance to victory and whose graves are unknown.

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To the right and left of the memorial’s central tower are panels that list the  names of nearly 11,000 Australians who died on Australian battlefieds accross France and have no known grave.

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On the Australian National Memorial, the names of those with no known grave are shown under the units in which they died, with their rank and any honours and awards.

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The largest number of names recorded for any one unit belongs to the 28th Battalion fro Western Australia, 365 .

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The large geographic names on the top of the memorial’s walls are the battle honours earned by the Infantry and Light Horse units of the 1st Australian Imperial Force on the Western Front.

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australian national memorial villers-bretonneux

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The Australian National Memorial was officially opened on 22 July 1938 by King George VI . The ceremony was attended by the full French Cabinet and the President of France . The Australian Government was represented by the Deputy Prime Minister, Sir Earle Page.

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” They rest in peace…”

When he opened the Australian National Memorial, King George VI said :

” On this monument is an inscription telling us and others who will visit this hill in the years to come, that it perpetuates the memory of the Australian Imperial Force in France and Flanders, and of 11,000 of them who fell in France and have no known grave ” .

He finished his speech with this words : ” They rest in peace, while over them all Australias’s tower keeps watch and ward “.

( King George VI, speech, The Times, London, 23 July 1938 )

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The Australian National Memorial was the last of the great British Empire and Commonwealth World War I memorials to be built in France and Belgium.

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A competition was held in Australia in the 1920s to select a memorial design, but owing to the subsequent worldwide financial depression, the constructionof the memorial was delayed.

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In 1935, Australia requested that the Imperial War Graves Commission ( now Commonwealth War Graves Commission ( CWGC )) construct its memorial and the CWGC invited one of its principal architects, Sir Edwin Lutyens, to submit a design.

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Sir Edwin’ s design was accepted with some modifications and the construction started immediatly.

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We do not know this Australian’ s name and we never will.

….We do not know his rank or his battalion. We do not know where he was born, or precisely how and when he died. We do not know where in Australia he had made his home or when he left it for the battlefields of Europe. We do not know his age or his circumstances – whether he was from the city or the bush; what occupation he left to become a soldier; what religion, if he had a religion; if he was married or single. We do not know who loved him or whom he loved. If he had children we do not know who they are. His family is lost to us as he was lost to them. We will never know who this Australian was.

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The Villers- Bretonneux area was in the firing line again briefly during the Second World War and the Memorial was extensively damaged. It was repaired after the war . Visitors may notice many places in the stonework still bear scars of wartime damage.

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