Anzac Day in France
In commemoration of Anzac Day, a Dawn Service is traditionally held in northern France, at the Australian National Memorial, alongside the Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery. It is held on the site of the intense battle of 1918, where Australian units helped defend Villers-Bretonneux during the German Spring Offensive of the First World War, recapturing the town from German hands on 25 April, the third anniversary of the Gallipoli landings.
Anzac Day Dawn Service in Villers-Bretonneux France ©Department of Veterans' Affairs
This year, Government-led public overseas Anzac Day commemorative services, including the service held at the Australian National Memorial, cannot proceed due to the ongoing pandemic. To commemorate Anzac Day in an appropriate and safe manner, the Val de Somme Tourism office, supported by the Sir John Monash Centre, encourages local residents to mark the occasion by partaking in alternate commemorations. Two separate projects have been launched. The ‘Australia at your Windows’ project encourages local residents and businesses to decorate their windows in the colours of Australia. While ‘Dear Australia’ is a project to bring French children and veterans in Australia together, with local children writing letters and sending drawings to veterans and their families in Australia.
In addition to these initiatives, local towns on and around the Australian Remembrance Trail will be decorating their streets with Australian colours and private wreath laying services will be held in honour of the Australian soldiers who fought on the Western Front during the First World War.
Australian Remembrance Trail in France
Australia's commitment on the Western Front between 1916 and 1918 was one of the most important events in the country’s history. The experience had a significant effect on Australia's approach to war, as well as on Australian politics and culture.
The Western Front directly impacted the lives of countless Australian families. Of the 295,000 Australians who served, over 46,000 died and more than 130,000 were wounded. Many bodies were never recovered but their names are not forgotten; they are recorded on the memorials to the missing at Villers-Bretonneux, VC Corner in Fromelles and the Menin Gate in Ieper (Ypres).
The Australian Remembrance Trail links the most significant sites along the 200km trail from Ieper (Ypres) on the Channel coast in Belgium to Bellenglise in northern France. It includes battlefields, cemeteries, memorials and museums – all sharing their own experiences of the First World War.
Visiting these sites, where 75 percent of Australia’s First World War fallen now rest, is an emotional, powerful and humbling experience.
The Australian Remembrance Trail along the Western Front
The Sir John Monash Centre in Villers-Bretonneux
The Centre , named after General Sir John Monash, is set on the grounds of the Villiers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery and alongside the Australian National Memorial, on the former battlefields of the Somme, in northern France. Upon the memorial are listed the names of close to 11,000 Australians who lost their lives in France and have no known grave.
The Centre is not a museum in the traditional sense but a multimedia interpretive hub. It offers an introduction to the Australian Remembrance Trail along the Western Front. Its interpretive design focuses on extensive immersive and emotive elements while also using carefully selected materials and significant objects to deliver a compelling visitor experience.
The design of the Centre itself showcases Australian materials, craftmanship, culture and technology through detailed finishes and timberwork, unique architectural design and high-quality interactive and multimedia interpretive displays.
Anzac Day Australian National Memorial ©Department of Veterans' Affairs
Using state-of-the-art technology, stories are available on each visitor’s mobile device via the free app; a virtual tour guide allowing visitors to experience the site at their own pace in English, French or German. It provides a seamless and deeply personal experience for visitors as they journey through the Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery, the Australian National Memorial and the Centre itself.
The Centre tells the stories of those who served on the Western Front in ways that engage and inform today’s visitors, interweaving the words, archive footage and images of Australian service personnel with historically accurate recreations. The centrepiece is an immersive gallery, which transports visitors on an emotional journey to the heart of the battles of Villers-Bretonneux and Le Hamel.
Kids‘ Corner: Digger Quest, a new activity for 2021
In 2021 the Sir John Monash Centre is launching its new kids’ app for children from 6 years old; Digger Quest. Equipped with an SJMC tablet and guided by Australian totems, such as a kangaroo or an emu, children go on a quest through the Centre. As they explore the galleries and complete their missions, children learn about Australia’s involvement in the Great War by playing games that are both educational and fun.