This last week has been a good time of reflection and commemoration. Two significant days on Monday nd Tuesday saw me involved in ceremonies that commemorated Australia’s military involvement in conflicts that have kept ua, and the world, safe and free.
Monday (April 24) was the 105th anniversary of the liberation of the French village of Villers Bretonneux during WW1. The commemoration group to which I belong, ‘The Friends of the 15th Brigade’, held a service in the grounds of Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance to commemorate this event. It was attended by around seventy people including the French Consul, descendants of those who fought to liberate this village (my grandfather) and the entire sixth grade class of children from the tiny Strathewen Primary School who have an ongoing close relationship with their peers in the Victoria School at Villers Bretonneux.
The background to this action is this. In March 1918, the Germans launched a major offensive to take the strategic town of Amiens. As the Germans moved westwards towards their goal, they captured Villers-Bretonneux on 23 April. The British high command feared that if the Germans moved on to take Amiens, the war would be lost. The job of retaking Villers-Bretonneux was assigned to two Australian brigades. (We have visited this area and I know the environment well.)
The plan was to encircle and trap the Germans. There would be no preliminary bombardment. Instead the Australians would launch a surprise attack at night. Two battalions would begin the assault from the south towards the east of Villers-Bretonneux while three battalions would attack from the north at the same time.
The assault began at 10pm on 24 April. It was a do-or-die attack. The diggers took out the German machine guns then fought the enemy in a ferocious house-to-house confrontation. One German officer later wrote that the Australians ‘were magnificent, nothing seemed to stop them. When our fire was heaviest, they just disappeared in shell holes and came up as soon as it slackened.’
By dawn on 25 April, exactly three years after the Anzacs stormed ashore at Gallipoli, the Australians had broken through the German positions and the French and Australian flags were raised over Villers-Bretonneux. It took the rest of the day and into the next to secure the town. But secure it they did and the Anzacs established a new front line, marking the end of the German offensive on the Somme. A British General called the Anzac attack ‘perhaps the greatest individual feat of the war’.
I am proud of my grandfather’s participant in this action. Here I am standing under the commemorative tree in the grounds of the Shrine after the service.
The following day (April 25) was ANZAC Day. This is probably the most significant commemoration day in Australia. It is when we remember the service and contribution of those who have fought or died for the country in war.
I began the day at the community Dawn Service at Box Hill by joining around 2000 other people for this servicee that replicates the ‘Stand To’ at dawn that every Australian Soldier on active service has done. It was a simple service with the laying of wreaths, prayers and the sounding of the Last Post and Reveille. It was followed by a ‘gunfire breakfast’ inside the RSL with nice food and a chance for me to catch up with other veterans that I know. This year there was a significantly increased number of people attending – even more than last year when people felt safe to attend once again after Covid.
From the RSL, we travelled in to the city for the Anzac Day march. The navy had two ships in port and the forming up area was saturated with sailors. I think there were more of them in town than there ever were in the Spanish Armada. At least three sailors are above water, unlike those of the Spanish Amarda.
The number of fellow comrades from my Vietnam unit were down from previous years. We marched off earlier than the planned starting time and marched the distance of over a kilometre to the Shrine of Remembrance with continuous applause from the crowd watching the march. It makes me feel very proud of my service to receive this type of response for us veterans.
We were back at the Box Hill RSL by noon. I spent the rest of the day with fourteen friends and family having a long and slow lunch. It was enjoyable company and there is nothing much better than having one’s family around you.
We were entertained for a little while by one of the local Highland Pipe Bands who marched through the bistro playing a selection of tunes that I have never heard on bagpipes before – ‘I Still Call Australia Home’ was one of them. They were very noisy but wonderfully entertaining.
We finally finished lunch at around 4.00 pm and in a very happy mood, we letf for home.
This is our Melbourne Family – daughter Cathy, Jill, and grand daughters Kai and Audrey. I hope we can see our Perth family sometime later in the year.