The battlefields, cemeteries and memorials of World War 1, The Great War, are scattered throughout this region and the scale of the conflict and loss of life is reflected in the thousands of white crosses and headstones stretching in all directions. Some cemeteries are small and others huge but they are all beautifully maintained and, at this time of year, ablaze with colour from the flowers blooming in front of every marker. Red-hot pokers, extravagant peonies, poppies, of course, and many others. The land has been transformed from a hell-hole of noise and mud and death into rolling green pastures and grain fields. The grave sites are tranquil and open to the sun and flowers and birds or sheltered in leafy glades, guarded by large overhanging branches. Unimaginable suffering and despair was endured here and you can only walk by the graves, read the inscriptions, and silently grieve for victims of war everywhere.
We began the day with a visit to Villers-Bretonneux and we toured the Franco-Australian Museum, temporarily housed in the Victoria Hall while extensive renovations take place. Victoria School was rebuilt using donations collected by Victorian school children, penny by penny, after the war ended. There is a true bond of friendship between the people of Australia and the inhabitants of Villers-Bretonneux and it is very touching to know that the message ‘N’oublions jamais l’Australie’ can be found in every classroom. It was in April 1918 that Australian troops in V-B stopped the German push before Amiens could be captured. The impressive Australian National Memorial is not far out of the town and there were quite a few visitors.
In the afternoon we went to the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial, the biggest battalion memorial on the Western Front and the largest area of the Somme battlefield which has been preserved. The site encompasses the ground over which the Newfoundland battalion attacked in July 1916 and part of the German front line system. The centrepiece of the memorial is the caribou which stands over the grassed-over trenches which are still clearly defined. The avenue of maple trees provided a cool sanctuary on a very hot day. Sorry Melbourne – I know you are having chilly weather but it is hot in Europe.