Memories to last a lifetime
IT'S dawn and you're standing in front of the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux with thousands of others paying their respects to the 48,000 countrymen who were killed during the fighting on the Western Front.
As the sun rises over the imposing memorial to Australia's 11,000 missing in France, the strains of the Last Post echo across the countryside and, at that moment, you feel the strongest of connections with your fellow Australians. Attending an Anzac Day service on the very battlefields our heroes fought on for our freedom is an emotional experience that you will never forget.
Greta Lindsay, owner of Helloworld Park Beach Plaza, recently travelled on a Mat McLachlan Western Front 3-Day Flexi Tour by private car from Paris - an experience she certainly will never forget.
"We took a car transfer from Paris to Amiens, in the heart of the Somme, where we were met by our driver/War Historian guide Soren - an incredibly knowledgeable and likeable guide. During the first day Soren took us to many battlefield sites, including -
Pozieres, scene of the most-costly battle in Australia's history, where 23,000 men were killed or wounded in six weeks.
Villers-Bretonneux, the town that was liberated by Australian troops on Anzac Day 1918. It was here in the Adelaide Cemetery that Australia's Unknown Soldier lay before being reinterred in Canberra in 1993. We visited the imposing Australian National Memorial, where the names of nearly 11,000 Australians, with no known grave in France, are recorded. A stop at the crash site of the Red Baron in 1918 followed, the scene of the great Australian victory at Hamel.
Day 2 saw us heading towards Ypres (just across the Belgian border) to visit the battlefield of Bullecourt, where Australia lost more than 10,000 men in two bloody battles in April and May 1917. We then travelled on to the very moving 1916 battlefield of Fromelles where Australia lost a further 5533 men. During our visit we came across the graves of 2 Port Macquarie brothers, Private E.R. Wilson (aged 20) and Private S.C. Wilson (aged 30) - a third brother, James (aged 18), was wounded but survived. Whilst at Fromelles we visited the site of the Australian mass grave at Pheasant Wood, only discovered in 2009. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission was appointed to oversee the recovery of the remains and to create a new cemetery where they would finally be laid to rest. The bodies of 250 British and Australian soldiers were painstakingly removed from the Pheasant Wood graves by a team of specialists and reinterred in the new cemetery in 2010.
Crossing the Belgian border we arrived at the town of Ypres late in the afternoon, giving us time to check into our hotel before walking to the Menin Gate , where the names of 54,000 missing British and Commonwealth soldiers are recorded, for the moving Last Post Ceremony. The Ypres fire brigade has performed this bugle ceremony every day and in all-weather since the memorial opened in 1927 (with the exception of the four years of German occupation during the Second World War).
Day 3 - The Ypres Salient was a bulge in the front line that curved around Ypres for most of the war. More than a million men were killed or wounded trying to gain control of this small patch of ground. During the day we visited the impressive In Flanders Field Museum, the 5th Australian Division Memorial at Polygon Wood, the cratered landscape of Hill 60 and Tyne Cot, the world's largest Commonwealth war cemetery, which sits in the heart of one of the most horrific battlefields of the war - Passchendaele.
After a very emotional and memorable 3 days our tour ended. During our journey we saw several English and European children on their educational school trips. What an experience for them - it is a pity that distance and money prevents many of our young people from visiting these battlefields and learning all that our fathers sacrificed for our freedom.
"The journey was over, but the memories will last a lifetime"
For more information on Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours -throughout the world - call into Helloworld, Park Beach Plaza, or phone 66 524847 and speak to one of our Consultants.