You may like to refer to our previous blog which focused on Villers Bretonneux and the Australian War Memorial. On our second day tour with Jacques, we took in Mont St Quentin. This was a significant objective for Australian troops to take. It is elevated terrain where the Germans could see and direct artillery and machine gun fire with devastating effect and it dominated the old fortress town of Peronne. There is a diorama in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra showing this action.
Les Carlyon in his book The Great War has described Mont St Quentin: “Much of the credit for Mont St Quentin belongs to Monash…. But Monash wasn’t the hero of Mont St Quentin, and he was gracious enough to admit it. This battle belongs to soldiers rather than Generals, corporals and privates who did astonishing things that are not easily explained.” Six Victoria Crosses were awarded in one day – the first of September…
This area is forested now with a road leading up and through it – roughly running in the direction the troops moved against it. Ian has visited this place twice and found it to have an atmosphere that is difficult to describe. It is such an important place for Australians. During the 2008 tour one of the experienced guides told a story about a tour he had led with some WWI veterans. When they were boarding the coach he did a quick head count and there was one missing. He eventually found this old Digger sitting on the edge of the road near the cemetery in tears. He said he was at the exact spot where he had been trying to patch up his mate when he died… All very sad.
The old Peronne fortress is now an excellent museum with lots of interesting items displayed very well. It is worth spending some time there. They have a cafe in there so you can get something for lunch and a coffee or two.
Jacques, our amazing guide, continued to divert to interesting places during our second tour, so we were able to see the new Memorial Cemetery in Fromelles where a mass grave was discovered recently. The location was finally found after a lot of sleuthing by a couple of individuals including the use of some old aerial photographs in their quest. A great job and DNA has been used to identify some of the diggers there.
As well we were shown the field where “The Red Baron” came to grief. Von Richthofen was shot down over an area where Australian troops were entrenched and they may have actually fired the shot that killed him. It is a little controversial and probably will never be settled.
We have only shown a tiny fraction of the interesting places in this important battlefield region. Some of you may find this ‘war tourism’ a little ghoulish but we found it so inspiring to understand what had happened here, both for our ANZACs and the local communities. It is a way of honouring those soldiers who have now lain dead for a 100 odd years, and we hope it will inspire you to do a little research of your own and pay the Somme a visit. You may feel sad, but you won’t regret it.
Next blog: Fabulous Ieper and the Menin Gate