Lest We Forget
The Great War 1914-1918 ravaged Europe leaving an indelible mark on both people & countryside. Australia, though spared of any direct threat, suffered a huge loss for such a young country. Out of a population below 5 million, 416,809 Australians enlisted for service. This represented 38.7% of the male population aged 18 to 44 & with a casualty rate of 64%, amongst the highest of the war, we indeed lost a generation. For so many of us a trip to honour the fallen in these faraway lands are high on our agendas. I have travelled to the Western Front 3 times & have been fortunate enough to attend both an ANZAC DAY Dawn Service & the 2018 Centenary Commemoration of Remembrance Day, both at the Australian War Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux. Moving & humbling experiences that will stay with me forever.
All along the Western Front of France & Belgium the white stone of the Commonwealth Cemeteries is easily recognisable. Some are clustered together, some further afield, all have a story to tell. There are many coach tours you can join with most of the smaller operators offering to take you to the specific site of your relative as long as you give them enough notice. It’s important to pre book these early, especially if going during significant commemorations, as they sell out quickly. Personally, I prefer the self-drive option in this beautiful part of the world. Being able to linger at the places that you find more significant is the greatest benefit of this style of touring. The sheer number of deaths & destruction of war can be overwhelming so to sometimes take a breather from the despair that you are experiencing can also be very beneficial. It is also advisable to see the commemorative sites of other countries not just those of Australia. Langemark German Cemetery is so starkly different with its black basalt stone in such sharp contrast to the white, yet those buried within are still someone’s father, brother or son. The Canadian memorials at Vimy Ridge & Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial are very interesting as Veteran Affairs Canada send students on four-month placements to engage visitors on a more personal level about the sites, their tunnels & trenches.
For France the most common base for Battlefield touring is Amiens or Arras. Both towns are worth visiting themselves with plenty of tour groups, accommodation & restaurants. For Belgium the beautiful walled city of Ieper (Ypres) is my personal favourite, where every night at 8pm you can witness the Menin Gate Last Post Ceremony that has been held here since 1928. It is incredibly moving & very evocative of the “Menin Gate at Midnight” painting that hangs in Canberra’s War Memorial.
Some cannot understand the desire to visit such a sombre destination, others find it too distressing. Personally, to be here & pay my respects to not only my own fallen family member but all those who so willingly sacrificed their lives, was one of the greatest honours I have ever experienced.
THEIR NAMES LIVETH FOREVERMORE - LEST WE FORGET