IN MEMORY: German machine gun posts and open fields of Fromelles against which Australian 5th Division attacked.
IN MEMORY: German machine gun posts and open fields of Fromelles against which Australian 5th Division attacked. Peter Feros

Fromelles centenary tributes

THIS week marks the centenary of the first major battle fought by Australian troops on the Western Front – the Battle of Fromelles.

The attack on July 19 and 20, 1916, was intended to draw the Germans from the British Somme offensive further south.

Small parts of the German trenches were captured by the 8th and 14th Australian Brigades but without flanking support and subjected to fierce counter-attacks they were forced to withdraw.

The twelve battalions of the 5th Australian Division, the most inexperienced of the Australian Divisions, suffered 5533 casualties in a 24-hour period, and it would be three months before its ranks could be replenished and enter the trenches as a fighting unit.

It’s regarded as the beginning of the most devastating period of the campaign for Australian troops and the most deadly day in Australian fighting history.

Next Saturday, the beginning of the two-week Battle of Pozieres Ridge is also remembered. By the end of the Somme campaign in November more than one million soldiers had been killed or injured – including 23,000 Australians.

The Diggers’ distance from home, the fact they volunteered to die in the defence of France and the character and fighting spirit of the ordinary Aussies left a heroic legacy.

To commemorate the centenary, local ex-serviceman Barry Gracey is continuing his mission to complete a memorial garden in Pozieres in memory of those who fell.

“What I don’t want happening in the future is someone coming along and digging up bones ... we want to give these men some peace,” he said.

One of Australia’s most decorated members of the Australia Defence Force, Ben Roberts Smith VC, MG officially launched a social media campaign to commemorate the centenary.

The campaign aims to host a virtual candlelight vigil in July.

To increase understanding of the significance of the Western Front in Australia’s history, people will be encouraged to share, via social media, the centenary flame.

“The virtual candlelight vigil helps us cast a symbolic light on the Western Front, and pay tribute to those brave men who were killed, wounded or captured,” Campaign spokesperson Colonel Christopher Austin ADC said.



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