Patrick Simon AO, the mayor of Villers-Bretonneux and Australia's most loyal supporter in France passed away on May 13 after a battle with coronavirus. Mr. Simon’s family said in a statement their “hero” had fought bravely for seven weeks.
The determination of Mr. Simon to maintain the special bond between Villers-Bretonneux and Australia earned him an honorary Order of Australia medal on April 26, 2015 by then Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
Villers-Bretonneux was liberated by the ANZACS from the Germans in World War 1. The town's school was flattened during two deadly battles to recapture Villers-Bretonneux but rebuilt with donations from Victorians, and to this day still displays banners and small signs reading 'Do Not Forget Australia'. The main street is named Rue de Melbourne and the imposing Australian National Memorial - the main memorial commemorating the Australians who died on the Western Front - sits just outside the town.
Federal Veteran's Affairs Minister Darren Chester said Australia had lost a "true friend" and “will be greatly missed by all Australians who met and worked with him”. Chester said Simon oversaw the renovation of the Franco-Australian First World War museum in Villers-Bretonneux, was a strong supporter and voice in the establishment of Australia's Sir John Monash Centre, and always extended a "warm and hospitable welcome" to Australian visitors.
For the 12 years he was Mayor, Simon presided over Anzac Day services in Villers-Bretonneux. Most recently, he initiated a fundraiser and collected $37 000 from local children and residents of Villers-Bretonneux for victims of the Australian bushfire catastrophe just weeks before falling ill.
In Mr. Simons honour, the flags at the Australian Embassy in Paris were flown at half-mast the day after his passing
"Patrick opened his town to Australians at all times but especially on Anzac Day," Brendan Berne, Australian Ambassador to France in Paris said. "I've seen many Aussies deeply touched by the warmth of his welcome. Patrick embodied the French 'duty to remember' when it came to the Anzacs and their legacy.”
His work in promoting Franco-Australian shared history was unequalled. Future generations of Australians will continue to visit the region every year as a result of his passion and commitment.
We pass on our support and deepest condolences to the family and friends of Patrick Simon during this tough time.