STEVEN Morganti of Henley Brook was one of eight young Western Australians who toured Belgium and France to commemorate the Centenary of Armistice.
The group’s 10-day tour of the former battlefields of Belgium and France started in Paris on November 3 and includes attendance at the Remembrance Day ceremony at the Australian War Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux on November 11.
The state-funded tour was designed to bolster young Western Australians’ knowledge of the implications of the World War I and of the Armistice that signalled its end while gaining valuable insights into the meaning of mateship and the Anzac spirit.
Mr Morganti said the men who fought in World War I sacrificed a lot for democracy and defending freedom.
But it was important to also remember the men and women coming back from recent wars.
“We think of veterans as older men but a 25-year-old can be a veteran and have done several tours of Afghanistan,’’ he said.
Day 1 – Versailles
We arrived in Paris early in the morning and headed straight off to the Palace of Versailles.
The only way to describe the palace is extravagant and luxurious, with its many rooms filled with marble, gold, paintings, chandeliers and fine cloths.
It is easy to see why a revolution occurred in France.
We spent several hours wandering the enormous palace and admiring the incredible beauty and richness of everything.
It is clear that no expense was spared when it was made.
We visited the stunning Hall of Mirrors which is a large room that has chandeliers hanging down from a ceiling which is really a huge painting and walls lined with marble statues and mirrors.
It is a beautiful room and it was interesting to think that just over 100 years ago the leaders of the great powers of that time gathered there and discussed what would become the Treaty of Versailles which sowed the seeds for the World War II.
Here the decision made to sign that treaty which would go on to affect the rest of the 20thCentury.
We also explored outside in the Palace Gardens, where Rufus and I decided to row a boat along the lake which had beautiful views due to all the trees with their rich orange and yellow leaves.
My favourite room in the palace is the Gallery of Great Battles, which displays big paintings that depict various famous French battles and the busts of influential French leaders.
It is the biggest room in the palace and the sheer size and beauty of the artworks is really captivating.
Day 2 – Paris
On our first full day in France we had a free day in Paris where we decided to visit Notre Dame, Les Invalides and the Eiffel Tower.
The weather was quite warm and we decided to walk to Notre Dame from our hotel, which by the end of the 4km walk was not the best idea as we were all exhausted.
We walked through Notre Dame which is an incredibly old church and it was interesting to think about all the people throughout history who have visited and worshipped in this church.
The building has an incredible grand gothic design with pillars that seem to disappear into the sky with their height.
The huge stained-glass windows and statues depicting religious scenes were also incredibly beautiful sights to behold.
Next, we took the metro to Les Invalides which is an old military home for injured and retired soldiers that has been given a new lease of life as a military museum.
As it is a huge museum, we could not see everyone of the exhibits so we walked through the World War I and World War II exhibits.
It was good to see and read about these wars from the perspective of the French, rather than the Australian and British ones which are well known.
The museum had a number of interesting collections such as French helmets, weapons and uniforms which I had not really seen before. After the museum we headed off to find lunch, which was a lovely Italian restaurant with a delicious Quatre Fromage Pizza.
This restaurant was close to the Eiffel Tower which we then visited next.
It is incredible to think that this building was created solely for the 1889 World Fair and that it was going to be taken down afterwards. One of the most recognisable buildings in the world almost became a footnote in history.
It was then getting closer to the evening which was when we were due to meet up at the Arc De Triomphe, so we started to make our way there.
Once at the Arc De Triomphe, we climbed the steps up a very narrow staircase before being treated to the glorious views of Paris at night. The streets were full of cars and the lights shone well into the distance, including the Eiffel Tower glowing nearby.
A visit to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier concluded the day’s activities.
Day 3 – Compiegne, Mont St Quentin
Today we visited Compiegne – the site where the Armistice was signed in 1918.
It is also the site where in 1940 the French signed their surrender to Nazi Germany.
So much history is here and it feels almost surreal that we were able to stand where the Armistice was signed to end the World War I and then also where France was humiliated by the Nazis in the next war.
It was very interesting to learn that after the surrender was signed in 1940, Hitler ordered that the entire site be ripped up and removed except for the stature of General Foch.
The other items that were removed became exhibit items in Germany, shown off and displayed during the war until the carriage was destroyed towards the end of the war.
The site has been mostly restored with the memorial stones returned and another carriage from the same production line in the museum instead.
The forest is an otherwise beautiful place, quiet and peaceful now. The museum also had a large collection of negatives, showing everyday life in the trenches and it was really good to see some new pictures of World War I, rather than the same ones that are shown over and over again.
We then travelled onto Mont St Quentin, the place where Australians are said to have conducted one of the single finest feats of the war. Here the Australians assaulted German positions guarded by highly trained Prussian Troops in September 1918, in what was a largely technologically unsophisticated battle that was won through the Australians grit and determination.
They shouted loudly to disguise how few of them they were, and some soldiers fought for over 24hr straight pushing through fatigue and exhaustion in order to take the objective.
We were able to stand where Edgar Towner had earnt his Victoria Cross by first capturing a machine gun post before providing cover to advancing troops throughout the night despite being injured.
Although it was not a battle with highly detailed planning, it highlighted the so called ‘Anzac spirit’ by demonstrating the Australians’ ability to push through and persevere through the challenging conditions against a well-trained opposing force occupying the high ground.
It was interesting to finally see a battlefield that I had heard and read so much about before.
The landscape was completely different to what I had pictured, with low rolling hills as far as the eye could see rather than big towering mounts.
To stand where the Australians fought so bravely and fiercely made me feel a sense of pride in what our servicemen achieved in World War I.
We also saw an area of forest that has been left untouched with it still bearing the scars of trench lines from 100 years ago.
It is almost eerie standing on the hillside gazing out to the rolling fields underneath a brilliant blue sky, thinking that beneath all this beauty lies a dark history of a violent conflict.
Day 4 Passchendaele, Tyne Cot
We visited the Passchendaele 2017 Museum, which had a really interesting series of displays.
They had large displays of various gas masks, medical equipment, shells, firearms, uniforms and much more.
One of the most interesting maps they had showed an intersection of the Passchendaele landscape, showing not only the terrain but also which forces fought along the front at different stages of the offensive.
Aside from artefacts of the war, they had a full-size dugout and trench system which was really interesting to be able to explore.
I have always wanted to walk through one of these and even tried at home once to construct a trench system.
Being able to walk through the entire setup and experience for myself what I usually only see in movies and textbooks was awesome. Especially considering that it was also in the area that the real trenches were created.
The setup was really fascinating and I loved walking through it.
After the museum, we went to the educational centre and here we spent the afternoon experiencing the life of a soldier which included dressing up in the uniform of an Australian soldier.
I was chosen to be the Lieutenant for the activity which was great as I got to practice my command calling.
First, we had lunch in our mess tins which was a vegetable stew very similar to the inside of a pastie.
It tasted quite good but I am sure what was served in the trenches was a bit blander and not as enjoyable to eat.
Next we had to practice transporting a wounded soldier via a stretcher which although was fairly easy, I am sure would not have been easy in knee deep mud after months of exhaustion from the constant shelling.
We then made our way to our start-off point, which was where the Australians commenced their advance during the Battle of Broodseinde on October 4, 1917.
We practiced a few advances, where one side would provide flanking cover to the other as they advanced and vice versa.
We also practiced putting on our gas masks and then running in them, which was quite difficult to do as you needed to forcefully breath out for the gas mask to work.
The gas masks also severely restrict your vision so that your peripheral vision is almost non-existent.
We also practiced grenade throwing using boche balls which are of a similar weight.
Throwing these accurately was quite difficult, and I definitely needed a lot more practice.
Overall though, the experience was a really good one.
To be able to wear the uniform and perform the drills that the soldiers would have done was an awesome experience.
It really helped to place me back in 1917, and for me to better imagine what it was like to be a soldier then.
Now I know just how hard it is to run with a gas mask on, and yet the soldiers had to also deal with machine gun fire, shelling and barbed wire all at night while wearing their gas masks.
It really gave me a different perspective on their experiences.
At the end of our advance, we went to the Tyne Cot Memorial which is the largest Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery.
We were shown two church spires approximately 4km away on each side and were told that for the Passchendaele advance of that distance, there were 400,000 casualties.
To be given that number while standing there is shocking.
Eight kilometres doesn’t look like much yet an enormous number of men lost their lives or were wounded in just capturing that area.
A few months later the Germans retreated to the Hindenberg Line, and so it really makes you stop and wonder if the advance on Passchendaele was worth it (although hindsight vision is always 20/20).
To think that so many men gave up their lives in that small area was a very sombre experience.
Day 5 Messines, Langemarck, Polygon Wood, Menin Gate service
We started off today at the New Zealand Memorial for the Battle of Messines, which was one of the first of the more successful battles during World War I.
This battle has always interested me due to the effort required to prepare the various mines and then the subsequent successful attack after a series of huge explosions.
It was really good to be able to look at the lay of the land and see how the New Zealanders had advanced up the hill, so quickly in fact that there was too many of them at the top of the hill and some were left exposed to fire.
It was good to hear about another nation having a successful attack, as their efforts are not always spoken about.
The Battle of Messines was planned by General Plumer whom preferred to attack on smaller fronts in quick overwhelming battles rather than huge attacks across a long front with thinly stretched troops.
His methods of planning would be adopted by Monash later on in the war such as at Hamel.
Just around the corner was the Island of Ireland Peace Park which commemorates all the soldiers from Ireland who died or were wounded during World War I.
It is centred around a large stone round tower, with plaques commemorating the fallen including one that lists all the counties in Ireland without any space (division) between each one as a symbol of unity.
We were told however that there was unlikely many Irishmen in those divisions, as during the war newly enlisted soldiers were sent to which division required more men.
That resulted in men from all over the United Kingdom would be put in divisions that had geographically based names, but which they were not from.
We then travelled to the site of Caterpillar Hill and Hill 60, both of which were blown up with high explosives at the commencement of the Battles of Messines.
Today the crates left behind are still huge, a real testament to the immense power and destruction of the mines.
It is a bit eerie that today Caterpillar Crater looks so beautiful with a lake and surrounded by trees covered in golden leaves, whereas 100 years it was the scene of so much death and a crater in the midst of a battlefield scarred with shell holes, trenches and the casualties of war. The Hill 60 crater was not as well preserved or defined, with various shell holes throughout it – however this helped me to better visualise the landscape as it would have been during the war.
We also looked at an old bunker which had been used by both the Australians and the Germans at the different stages of the war, each using their own methods of construction for it.
We had lunch at the Hooge Crater Museum Café, which had a very interesting range of World War I relics including shell casings and grenades.
At the front of the café was a wall about knee height made out of old shell casings only which was quite cool to see.
Next we went off to Polygon Wood, which is once again lush woodland full of beautiful towering trees.
It felt surreal to be in this beautiful forest when all the previous images I had seen of the area were from World War I – a desolate muddy wasteland of shredded and bare trees destroyed by constant shell fire.
The Battle of Polygon Wood was quite successful, with the objectives being met due to General Plumer’s approach of limited objectives and concentrated efforts.
A number of these structures still stand today, and we visited some of them including a huge almost completely intact German bunker.
It was in incredible condition and was really interesting to explore. We next visited the Buttes New British Cemetery, which had overlooking it a towering obelisk very similar to the one in Kings Park.
The similarity is due to both being designed by Lieutenant General Talbot Hobbs, whom was an architect prior to the war.
We then travelled to the Langemark German War Cemetery which was very different to all the Commonwealth cemeteries.
Here, the headstones were dull grey rectangles laid flat rather than upright with each marking the site of up to 18 bodies.
There was row upon row of these, with the number of Germans buried in the cemetery being about 44,000 – a similar number to the total amount of Australians killed on the entire Western Front.
It was horrific to quantify it in that way.
Near the entrance of the cemetery, there is a mass grave containing the bodies of more than 24,000 men alone.
The number is higher than the population of most suburbs in Perth. The cemetery is not that big, and to think that so many men are buried beneath there, the equivalent of all the Australians killed in the same war, yet this is only one of many cemeteries for the Germans.
Often we do not give much consideration to the other side in the Great War, however I am sure that many of the German soldiers were just as full of dreams, ambitions and patriotism as the Australians who also signed up for the war.
This cemetery was truly a moving and solemn experience, with the dark grey industrial headstones in perfect alignment, tall trees keeping guard and the sheer number of people listed as being buried there.
Next we went to Ypres, where we met and had dinner with the Minister before attending the Menin Gate Last Post service.
This service has been conducted every night since mid-1928 – except during Nazi occupation – and it was a very solemn service.
Various groups marched into the memorial and various organisations laid wreaths for the fallen, before the Last Post and Reveille were played.
The Memorial is an imposing building and is a beautiful memorial to those whom are missing with no known grave.
It felt similar to the Australian War Memorial, with row upon row of names etched into it for the rest of time so that they are never forgotten.
Today was a very busy and full on day.
It was quite eerie visiting the first few places – Messines, Polygon Wood and the craters as now they look like beautiful postcard perfect locations.
They are now lush and beautiful with trees full of golden autumn colours and it is hard to imagine that it was once a slushfield of mud, barbed wire, fetid shell holes, trenches and death.
Day 6 Bruges, Ypres
On 9 November 2018 we started by visiting the city of Bruges, a town that was untouched by World War One due to its location well behind the front lines.
Bruges is a stunning and picturesque city – full of grand old buildings with towering steeples, cobble streets, canals, white swans and at this time of year trees full of golden leaves making a carpet of gold along the paths.
Bruges also have many quaint little shops with chocolate, fries, alcohol and Christmas decorations the main items for sale.
First we went on a boat ride through the canals, where we were able to see many of the sights of the city from a unique vantage point. Afterwards we had a lunch of Belgian Fries before climbing the 366 steps up the Belfry of Bruges.
The view from the top of the Belfry was breathtaking, with the landscape stretching as far as the eye can see into the distance in all directions.
Next we visit a number of the Christmas and food shops, before trying a delicious rich hot chocolate in a country famous for its chocolate.
After Bruges we went to Ypres, a town that as a juxtaposition to Bruges was near the front line for the entirety of World War One.
As a consequence of that, it was pulverized into dust for four years by German guns.
Despite this complete obliteration, the city looks as if it has been standing for centuries, despite it having been completely rebuilt since the end of World War One.
It was fascinating to see how the city has bounced back and recreated itself after the complete devastation.
Some scars of the destruction are still visible, with the gardens of the local cathedral containing some remnants of the original structure that stood before the War.
To me, the most interesting part of Ypres is the Menin Gate which is a grand imposing building that lists all of those Commonwealth soldiers whom have no known grave up to 15 August 1917.
The list of names covers the walls of the Menin Gate on all sides by their battalion, and there is not much space left for any more names. This makes the Gate really confronting, as this enourmous building covered in the names of the missing is still not large enough to list the name of every soldier with an unknown grave.
Even then, if all names of the missing were on the memorial it still would not even mention any of the hundreds of thousands who perished and are buried in a known grave.
The sheer size of the sacrifice which the Menin Gate represents is horrifying in its scale and humbling in reminding me that all of these men died for a cause, and that we must ensure that we never forget that cause.
Day 7 – Fromelles, Pheasant Wood, Bullecourt, Thiepval Memorial, Newfoundland Memorial Park
Today the weather matched the places we visited perfectly, as it was quite stormy and overcast for the majority of the day which is how I imagine the weather when I think of life on the Western Front.
First, we visited Fromelles and gazed out onto the Australians’ objective – the German frontline.
Between where we were and the frontline, there was zero cover.
It was perfectly flat land as far as the eye could see on either side, yet British and Australian troops were sent out over the top to advance on the Germans in broad daylight.
To make matters worse, the delineation between the British and Australian forces (the weakest point) was in line with the Germans strongest point – a salient known as the Sugarloaf.
This was the Australians’ first major engagement on the Western Front, and the result was nothing short of a massacre, with over 5,000 Australian casualties.
It is the single worst day in Australian Military history.
The Germans apparently felt embarrassed or ashamed about how easy it was to cut down the Australians and offered a ceasefire in order for the stretcher bearers to rescue men from no mans land.
Instead however, Lieutenant General McCay – an Australian – refused to accept this and so many men were left to die from exposure in the fields of Fromelles.
Although often the British generals are criticised for their incompetence during the war, the action by McCay is probably one of the most disgusting and he was an Australian.
There was no tactical reason to deny a ceasefire and by doing so he condemned many a man to his death.
Charles Bean visited the area on 11 November 1918 and reported that the entire area was full of the remains of Australian soldiers from that horrific day back in 1916, a testament to the scale of the bloodshed that occurred here.
There are three memorials and/or cemeteries at Fromelles, the first containing the statue of an Australian soldier carrying another from no mans land back to safety.
This is based on the actions of Sergeant Simon Fraser whom after the battle heard the cries of men from no mans land.
He then took it upon himself to locate the cries and as he found one, another would cry out ‘don’t forget me cobber’ and so he would make another dangerous trip out to rescue them.
He estimated that his company alone brought back 250 wounded men whom otherwise would have perished lying wounded between the two front lines.
The next cemetery is the Australian VC Corner Cemetery, which contains the bodies of many of the soldiers found after the war in the fields of Fromelles.
Unlike the other cemeteries, the graves are not individually marked and instead are represented by two large crosses surrounded by roses. The third cemetery is a new one, constructed only a few years ago after the discovery of 250 bodies in a mass grave at Pheasant Wood. This mass grave was only located after a Melbourne school teacher became convinced that there was a mass grave for Commonwealth soldiers nearby and located German records which provided orders for it to be dug.
Interestingly though, the order provided for a grave to be dug to contain 400 British soldiers, however only 250 bodies were found in this grave, meaning that there maybe another one nearby.
Due to DNA technology, a number of these bodies have been identified and each was reburied in a new cemetery, although care was taken to ensure that they were placed next to the soldier that they had been lying next to for over 90 years.
I feel that the way this was treated was really respectful and fitting for these men.
We then visited the museum next to this cemetery, which contained a number of stories of soldiers including their letters home describing their experiences in the battle.
We travelled next to Bullecourt and surveyed the area from where Major General Gellibrand’s HQ was located during the battle.
This battle really caused a huge mistrust of the British generals due to their poor planning and tactics which resulted in absolute bloodshed for the Australians.
Two battles occurred here and each time the Australian forces were decimated.
Similar to Fromelles, the area is not conducive to infantry attacks due to the relatively flat and very open landscape, yet men were still sent over the top to confront the enemy.
We then came to the Thiepval Memorial which lists the names of all the missing soldiers from Britain and South Africa with no known grave.
The memorial is huge and imposing, standing on top of a hill and can been for kilometres in all directions.
Here also the graves of 300 British and 300 French soldiers lie, symbolically side beside in entirety.
It was a very impressive memorial and similar to Menin Gate, really drove home the sheer number of casualties as this enormous memorial was covered with names of the missing.
It also was quite symbolic that this huge British tower could be seen for kilometres as wherever British soldiers lie in the area, a part of Britain is still watching over them.
The final stop for the day was another interesting place, the Newfoundland Memorial Park which has left the area relatively untouched since the end of the war.
This allowed us to view trench systems and shell holes from 100 years ago, giving a greater picture of what it would have looked like back then except with a lot more mud, death and destruction.
It was really good to be able to walk through some of old trench lines and observe the scarring of the earth left behind by the zig zag of trenches.
This park was fascinating to visit.
We then travelled to Amiens which is large beautiful older city, and had dinner with the Minister.
Day 8 – Remembrance Day, Pozieres, Lochnagar Mine Crater
Today we started at the Remembrance Day Service.
The weather was perfect for a memorial service – a little bit cold, grey clouds and light rain.
The mood at Villers-Bretonneux was very sombre and the memorial is beautiful in its simplicity.
It was interesting to see all the other people who had also come to pay their respects.
I met an elderly Frenchman who very proudly showed me a photo of his father who had fought during the World War I.
He seemed really interested in meeting with Australians and it was nice to see that the French haven’t forgotten Australia’s involvement in the war.
Almost on cue, once the service started a light rain became to drizzle for the remainder of the service.
To me it makes the remembrance of the sacrifice stronger as the guests sat there in the wind and rain, not moving as they paid their respects despite their discomfort.
In comparison, the soldiers we were all remembering endured years of discomfort during war and they had no idea when it would end.
To be there on that day – at Australia’s National Memorial in France on the Centenary of the end of World War I, after being in Albany for the centenary of the ships leaving for the same war four years earlier was an incredible experience.
After the service we then went to the Ulster Tower for lunch, before exploring the tower which is Northern Ireland’s World War One Memorial.
The tower itself is based on a tower in Northern Ireland called Helen’s Tower and is sited near where the Ulster Division fought during the Battle of the Somme.
Next we headed to Pozieres, where after viewing the 1stAustralian Division Memorial we walked through the fields where the Battle of Pozieres and Mouquet Farm were.
The entire area is relatively level with a gentle slope and not much cover at all. It is horrifying to imagine six weeks of constant shelling and bombardment in this area as the Australians attempted again and again to capture their objectives.
Australian Division after Australian Division was sent into the hellfire of Pozieres, each experiencing horrific losses and casualties.
This Battle conjures up the imagery that most people associate with World War One, with almost constant shelling for weeks and heavily fortified German positions this place truly would have been hell on earth for those men.
It truly is as Charles Bean said: more deeply sown with Australian sacrifice than any other place on earth.
To be able to walk down the road that those men might have followed through what are now fields of rich fertile soil, and imagine the horrors of 1916 was a very emotional experience.
We walked up to the site of the windmill which was a key target during the battle due to its position on a ridge.
The weather was dark and stormy, which is how I imagine this place was remembered in the soldiers’ memory of it too.
Pozieres in the end was captured with the assistance of the Canadians, however it really does put into question what is considered success in a war?
Although the objectives were achieved, there were almost 23,000 Australians including 7000 killed.
These men – fathers, sons, brothers and potential future leaders of our nation – lost their lives in capturing the town of Pozieres.
All of these men could have contributed to Australia after the war in ways we will never know if their lives had not been tragically cut short.
After Pozieres, we travelled to the Lochnagar Crater which was set off during the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
The crater is huge – over 100m in diameter and it is hard to imagine what it would have looked like to see the mine explosion with suddenly a large section of trench disappearing.
You can really understand how the presence of mines would have had a real psychological effect on the Germans as it would have been terrifying to constantly worry about the ground suddenly rising up and obliterating a large portion of your trench including everything in it.
Day 9 – Sir John Monash Centre, Villers-Brettoneux, Hamel, Siene Cruise
We travelled first to the Adelaide Cemetery, where a number of the soldiers who died at Villers-Bretonneux are buried.
Here the body of the Unknown Soldier who lies in the Australian War Memorial used to lie, before he was transported back to Australia. The cemetery lies in between fields of canola and again, it is hard to imagine the carnage that occurred here 100 years ago.
We then went on to the Victoria School which contains a museum dedicated to Australia’s involvement in the area during World War I and our ongoing relation with France.
On the ground floor they have Victoria Hall which was designed and funded by Australia, containing various carvings and photographs from Victoria on all four of its walls.
The upstairs area is then the museum, which – although small – had an incredible collection of memorabilia and artefacts, including uniforms, medals, photographs, letters and much more.
A lot of the images were very interesting such as one showing the Australian soldiers having a picnic with the children of the town, and others of the Australians mucking around having fun.
It was good to see some photos and scenes that I hadn’t seen before.
It was a really good museum especially with the amount of memorabilia that they had.
Next we returned to the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux and went to the Sir John Monash Centre.
This museum is newly opened and tells the history of Australia’s involvement in World War I using various multimedia which is controlled via an app.
The most interesting part of the museum is a 4-D immersive experience which takes you through a battle as smoke rises and flashes of ‘gunfire’ illuminate the room.
It was really interesting exhibit which helped to put your mind closer to what it would have been like during a battle in World War I.
The other exhibits were also good as they showed high quality re-enactments of events and personal stories from soldiers who lived through the experiences.
We then went above the centre to walk through the Memorial and climb the tower which watches over the Memorial and the town of Villers-Bretonneux.
The view of the countryside from the tower was spectacular and it was good to see the lay of the land while imagining the Australian forces on April 25, 1918 recapturing the area.
It is a fairly simple memorial, but still nonetheless beautiful in its solemnity as the tower guards over the many graves here.
It also feels symbolic, that this Australian tower is always watching over the French countryside and people, ready to protect them again if need be.
To gaze at all the headstones of the fallen soldiers and then lift my gaze to surrounding area which is now free and at peace – the objective that they fought and fell for – felt very fitting.
After this, we boarded the bus for the site of the Battle of Hamel – the first battle to fully incorporate the use of artillery, men, tanks and air power.
General Monash famously predicted the battle would last 90 minutes and was off the mark by only three minutes.
This battle was meticulously planned as he had learnt from General Plumer, and it was a great success with limited casualties in a swift victory.
This model would then be used in subsequent battles including for the commencement of the 100 Days Offensive which led to the eventual defeat of the German Army.
The location is now marked by a memorial which includes the American, British, Australian, French and Canadian flags, and looks spectacular as it stands above the surrounding rolling valleys in triumph.
The words of the French Prime Minister are etched into the memorial and say: “When the Australians came to France, the French people expected a great deal of you… We knew that you would fight a real fight, but we did not know that from the very beginning you would astonish the whole continent… I shall go back tomorrow and say to my countrymen, I have seen the Australians, I have looked in their faces, I know that these men will fight alongside of us again until the cause for which we are all fighting is safe for us and for our children.”
It truly is an impressive quote and one that makes you feel really proud about the Australians’ service during World War One.
It was a fitting final battlefield and quote to see on our tour.
We then boarded our bus back to Paris and along the way stopped at two cemeteries for Stephen and Leah to pay their respects to their relatives.
Both were a bit out of the way and not very big, but it was really nice to see that many of the headstones had flowers next to them where people had gone out of their way to remember the fallen.
In one of the cemeteries, both Harry Thorpe and William Rawlings lie – two of the most decorated Indigenous soldiers of the War.
They were friends and it feels right that now they are able to lie in peace together forever.
The service of Indigenous soldiers during World War I is truly an inspiration to me, as these men dealt with prejudice and volunteered to serve for a country that did not recognise them as citizens.
They put their lives on the line for Australia and yet many were never able to be called an Australian citizen.
Their service needs to be remembered always.
Upon arriving in Paris we had a few hours to relax before attending a river cruise down the Seine River which looks beautiful at night with all the lights glowing and famous landmarks lit up.
We then headed back to the hotel and rested before our flight back home.