Tour of duty

Published on November 25, 2015
  • French National War Cemetery at Notre-Dame de Lorette - Ablain-Saint-Nazaire ©Samuel Dhote

    © ©Samuel Dhote

    French National War Cemetery at Notre-Dame de Lorette - Ablain-Saint-Nazaire ©Samuel Dhote

    © ©Samuel Dhote

  • Cobber of Fromelles - Peter Corlett

    Cobber of Fromelles - Peter Corlett

Tour of duty 59000 fr

A wealth of war history lies buried beneath NORTHERN FRANCE.

Already early on in the First World War, both sides realised a rapid victory was nowhere in sight. The Western Front grew to a snaking 800-kilometre wire- and bomb-scarred line against which the conflicting armies pitted their forces, extending across France from the Belgian coast down to the Swiss border. 

Honouring a global effort Supporting the British and French was an international cohort of forces, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Egypt, South Africa, China and India. The following are just a few of the sites honouring the bravery of their people. 

India – The memorial of NeuveChapelle commemorates some 4,700 Indian soldiers and labourers, who have no known grave and played an important role in an offensive against the Germans here in 1915. 

New Zealand – The Wellington quarry in Arras pays tribute to New Zealand tunnelers who were instrumental in the brilliantly strategised Arras battle of 1917. 

Canada – The Canadian National Vimy Memorial at Vimy Ridge is dedicated to the 11,285 Canadian soldiers killed in France, and who have no known grave. 

France – France’s largest military cemetery, Ablain-Saint-Nazaire, in Notre-Dame de Lorette, is the final resting place for some 20,000 French soldiers. A further 22,000 unknown soldiers are buried at eight ossuaries nearby. 

The Remembrance Trails Nord-Pas de Calais is traversed by the Remembrance Trails (Les Chemins de Mémoire), four unique itineraries that guide visitors around 90 sites. The trails are designed to promote understanding of some of the major events of world history, and to honour the casualties of war. 

Of particular interest to Australians is the Australian Remembrance Trail, which covers 12 sites in honour of the service of Australians in Northern France and Belgium. At the newly upgraded Museum Jean and Denise Letaille – Bullecourt 1917, visitors come face to face with the terrible human sacrifice behind the two Battles of Bullecourt, brought to life through a collection of personal effects and memorabilia. Almost 11,000 diggers were killed or injured in these offensives, which took place close to Arras. In 1917, Arras was chosen as the site to launch a tactical offensive to the north. Allied soldiers dug underground tunnel networks to augment the vast chalk quarries already beneath Arras, eventually launching a surprise attack of 24,000 soldiers on the Germans on 9 April. The Wellington Quarry here is a powerful testimony to the success of this maneuver. 

Nearby is the Australian Memorial Park, where Melbourne sculptor Peter Corlett’s iconic ‘Cobber of Fromelles’ statue stands. The piece depicts Sergeant Simon Fraser of the 57th Battalion, a 40-year-old Victorian farmer-turned-soldier, who famously disobeyed orders to leave the trenches and recover wounded soldiers lying in no-man’s land. He was eventually killed at Bullecourt in 1917.In Fromelles itself, visitors can see the all-new Battle of Fromelles Museum to learn about the violent Battle of Fromelles of 19 July, 1916, which left more than 5,500 soldiers dead, wounded or missing in just 24 hours. Many of them were Australian, and are buried at the VC Corner Australian Cemetery here. The museum also evokes the incredible discovery, in 2009, of a mass grave at Pheasant Wood, where the remains of 400 British and Australian soldiers had lain unaccounted following a battle in 1916. A number of them have now been identified. 

New in 2015:  The Ring of Remembrance The new Mémorial International de Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, which opened in 2014 in Ablain-SaintNazaire, is one of the largest in the world and resolutely modern in form. Architect Philippe Prost has created the monument as a large elliptical wall engraved with the names of 580,000 soldiers, from the Allied and German sides, who lost their lives on the battlefields of Nord-Pas de Calais between 1914 and 1918. The soldiers are listed simply in alphabetical order, with no distinction made around nationality, grade or religion.

 

Things to see

Point of interest