Day NineJuly 22, 2016 in France
Today we said good bye to Ypres and the battlefields of the Ypres Salient and we have made our way south, back into France and to the area they call 'The Somme'. We returned to Fromelles for a closer look at Pheasant Wood Cemetery and Australia Memorial Park or VC Corner. Our historian, Mike, took us out into a paddock of wheat to fully explain the botched battle that was Fromelles. From our vantage point we could clearly see the Auber Ridge and the Sugarloaf (a bulge in the German front line). The first wave of Australian forces have 200m of no-man's land to cover to try and take the German trenches. The British on their flank have 400m of no-man's land to cover. But the British decide not to go as they dont think they can make a success of it, but fail to fully conmunicate this to the Aussies. Not enough Aussie soldiers from this first wave make it to fully take over the German trenches, so by the time the second and third waves come they are mowed down by German machine gun fire. The same thing happens again the next day as the British pull out due to dwindling numbers. The 58th Batallion loses 400 Victorian soldiers. This campaign was doomed from the start and results in over 5500 casualties and 1299 killed in a 24 hour period.
We spent some time at VC Corner - Australian Memorial Park. This is where the famous 'Cobber' sculpture is. To make it even more spectacular the grass areas surrounding the statue were covered in handmade knitted poppies. This was a display created for last year's Gallipoli Centenery and displayed in Federation Square. From here they were taken to the Chelsea Flower Show and then thanks to an anoyomous donation the display was brought to the Western Front for the Fromelles Centenery. It was amazing and gave the area that special spark.
We then went for a more intimate look at Pheasant Wood Cemetery in Fromelles, the site for Tuesday's Centenery service. This is the newest cemetery on the Western Front. It was created in 2009 after a mass grave of Australian soldiers was found in a farmer's paddock adjacent to the Fromelles village. Each soldier was laid to rest in the cemetery with a heastone 'Unknown soldier of the Great War' in 2010. After each soldier is identified by DNA their headstone is replaced with a new one depicting their name, rank, date of death, rising sun and a message from their family. A beautiful memorial.
After lunch we visted 'Vimy Ridge' the Canadian memorial to the fallen. It is massive, it is hard to describe its size or depict it properly in photos. This memorial represents the 66,000 Canadian troops killed on the Western Front and has the names of all the soldiers missing that do not have a known grave. The monument stands tall with two pillars side by side, this represents the two countries, France & Canada. The space between the pillars represents the ocean between these countries. The figure on top represents 'peace' and the shared values of faith, hope, courage and knowledge. The lone statue in front, which looks like the Virgin Mary is Mother Canada, looking out over the tomb and keeping a careful and loving watch over the fallen soldiers.
Finally we visited Bullecourt and had a beer in the 'Le Canberra' pub, just like the Diggers in 1917. We will learn more of the Battle of Bullecourt in the coming days.Read more