Rites of Remembrance

  • © Mission du Centenaire

    © Mission du Centenaire

Rites of Remembrance

France’s Centenary Partnership Program is a facilitator of remembrance events worldwide. 

One hundred years after its outbreak, the First World War lives large in the collective public memory, and a growing number of nations, minorities, men and women around the world are discovering their connections with one of the 20th century’s bloodiest and most defining events. 

Everywhere, these connections are layered with complexity. For Australians, the war symbolised both a national baptism of fire, and a horrific expenditure of young lives. Meanwhile, the Allies’ defense of the Western Front eventually resulted in victory but also left the French landscape and people deeply scarred by the devastating losses. Much mutual bravery and comradeship links the two countries, along with the other nations who fought, suffered, prevailed or died in the First World War. 

The First World War Centenary Partnership Program was launched in 2012 by the French government to design and implement events that commemorate these many sacrifices. The organisation’s website gives a clear overview of losses sustained on all sides as well as the memorial museums, monuments, exhibitions and other sites dotted across the globe today. For the descendants of anyone affected, this is a resource worthwhile bookmarking. 

For further information

First World War Centenary Partnership Program (14–18 Mission du Centenaire) http://centenaire.org.en 

Major memorial dates for Australians

As a nation of just under five million in 1914, Australia’s mobilisation of 416,809 soldiers and personnel during the First World War represented an important contribution. Of these, almost 60,000 were killed and 156,000 injured. Some principal Australian achievements in France are: 

Fromelles, July 1916

  • Allies shift their efforts to the Somme
  • 5533 Australian casualties within 24 hours of the first assault

Pozieres, 1916, and Bullecourt, 1917

  • Anzac troops captured Bapaume, Lagnicourt, Doiginies, Louvermal and sections of the Hindenburg Line. 23,000 casualties in Pozieres over 45 days, including 6800 deathsVillers-Bretonneux, April 1918 
  • Australia and other Allied soldiers recaptured Villers-Bretonneux from the Germans in early April
  • Seven-day battle in late April, by Allied forces including Australia, successfully repelled further German advance towards AmiensHamel Spur, July 1918
  • Australians successfully drove the Germans from a series of trenches and dugouts

Mont St Quentin and Peronne, August and September 1918

  • Australians attacked and captured the German stronghold of Mont St Quentin, key to the strategic town of Péronne.

The search for relatives

The last known combat veteran of the First World War – a British soldier, Claude Choules – died in Australia in 2011, but as a number of Anzac Day parade organisers begin inviting descendants to march, Australians’ interest in First World War heritage has never been greater. 

The best resource for Australians seeking ancestors who fought or served in the Great War remains the Australian War Memorial, which has an extensive online search engine that lets users search according to name, service number, unit name and so on (www.awm.gov.au). 

The War Memorial’s website also carries all 12 volumes of the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918, written by official war historian Charles Bean. Having experienced the bloodshed of Gallipolli and the Western Front directly alongside the soldiers, Bean was appalled by the suffering and remained deeply moved by the extent of Australian sacrifice. He was instrumental in founding the War Memorial itself, and his many writings on the war are rich in detail and in compassion. 

Additional war records can be found at the National Archives of Australia (www.naa.gov.au/collection/search), while articles dating back to the First World War from metropolitan and regional Australian newspapers can be tracked down at Trove (http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper). 

For those seeking to understand the war efforts of other nations, the Centenary Partnership Program is a good place to begin. Simply type in the name of the country you wish to research (Canada, South Africa, Britain and so on) and the search engine will generate a range of articles, many of them containing further hyperlinks and reading references. 

 

 

 

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