This year marks the centenary of Australia’s involvement in World War 1, a very important part of Australia’s history and something that profoundly affected the nation. It also was a defining point for Australia and Australians.
Reflecting on these events has reminded us of our travels through the battlefields of Europe. Back in 2008 Ian attended the first Dawn Service on ANZAC Day at Villers Bretonneux on the Somme River in northern France. The local people were so happy to have so many Australians visiting their region as their efforts during the WW1 were greatly appreciated.
This great event has continued each year, and Ian was keen to return to that area for a more intensive look over some of the significant battlefields. This was where General Sir John Monash demonstrated his outstanding ability to command ANZAC forces and win battles with a minimum of casualties, something that had not been demonstrated by the majority of allied field officers up to that time…
So while planning our trip to Europe in 2013 we started researching the many battlefield tours available in Belgium. Our choice (highly recommended by TripAdvisor) was the Flanders Battlefield Tours run by Jacques Ryckebosch and his wife Gen. We organised two day tours well in advance, and they recommended that we stay in the lovely town of Ypres or Ieper as it is now known. This is a very pretty and historic town which was terribly damaged during WWI.
This was an outstanding decision as Jacques was very familiar with Australia’s efforts in WWI; was a Monash fan as well and to top it off was an aviation nut too… Ian was in hog heaven! Ginny threatened to go shopping at one stage while they nattered away about their joint passions, but in the end she enjoyed the tours very much.
Ian really wanted to see two separate areas of the Somme that were involved in significant battles, so our first tour focused on Le Hamel and Villers Bretonneux. It was hard to envisage the carnage that took place in what is a lovely rolling countryside today – very green and pleasant. However the many cemeteries and memorials that dot the countryside indicate that this was not always the case…
The little town of Villers Bretonneux was hammered by artillery and has been reconstructed. The Victoria School was rebuilt after the conflict with money sent from school kids back in Victoria, Australia. The famous sign in the playground “Never Forget Australia” brought a lump to our throats and their wartime museum was a great display.
The Australian War Memorial just down the road is also outstanding and is the site of the Dawn Service on ANZAC Day.
Jacques organised our tour perfectly and included visits to many other interesting artefacts and historical sites as well. We can really recommend his and his wife Gen’s very professional tours.
Next blog: Our tour of the Mont St Quentin and Peronne region