This Anzac Day tribute is dedicated to the unnamed Anzac soldiers that remain on the battlefields of France after the Battle of The Somme
During my 28 years of Service with the Australian Army, I was fortunate to be posted as the Senior Army Officer in France responsible for a resident project team managing the initial phases of a major ADF aviation acquisition programme.
As the largest Army contingent in France, each year we had the privilege of supporting the traditional Battle of The Somme Anzac Day ceremonies marching at Villers-Bretonneuux, Fromelles and Bullecourt. On the 25th of April each year in France, we joined with French and New Zealand Officers and led a parade at each of the memorials to honour and commemorate our fallen Anzacs.
The most striking feature about the landscape of northern France is the sheer number of cemeteries that exist, as well as their size. It is a very sobering experience to stop and contemplate the carnage that took place in these fields and how many young Australians never returned. The privilege of participating in an Anzac Day ceremony at Fromelles and Villers-Bretonneuux surrounded by our fallen Anzacs raised emotions and feelings that cannot be described, it must be experienced.
The Villers-Bretonneux cemetery alone contains 779 Australians, 47 of whom are unidentified. The cemetery also contains 1,089 British, 267 Canadians, four South Africans and two New Zealanders.
On the right side of Amiens Road, just beyond the railway crossing at the western end of Villers-Bretonneux, is the Adelaide cemetery that begun in June 1918 and contains 519 Australians (four unknown soldiers) out of a total of 864 graves. All here were killed between March and September 1918. The Unknown Soldier was exhumed in 1993 and reinterned within the Hall of Memory at the Australian War Memorial.
Following the first ceremony at Villers-Bretonneux, our resident team would then travel to participate in the ceremonies at Fromelles where so many ANZAC’s gave their lives.
The VC Corner cemetery at Fromelles is unique amongst cemeteries of the region because it has no gravestones and contains only Australians. On the wall at the rear are the names of 1,299 Australians who died in the battle and have no known grave.
The unidentified bodies of 410 are buried in the lawns, each marked by a rose bush. The cemetery was situated in no-man's land between the Australian and German lines in 1916. It is sombre to think that so many of our Anzacs died and were buried unnamed.
Following the memorable Anzac ceremonies at Fromelles, our resident team contingent would finish their Anzac Day at Bullecourt. We would join the French contingent marching through the village to the AIF Bullecourt Digger memorial.
“Bullecourt represents for Australians a greater sum of sorrow and of honour than any other place in the world”, wrote a man who survived the fighting here in 1917. There were few that travelled further from
their homes to serve in the Allied cause than the Australians. Here, at Bullecourt and in the now beautiful fields that surround this village, more than 10,000 of them were killed or wounded.
Imprinted in my memories of commemorating Anzac Day at Bullecourt is the warm welcome of the local community. Our Anzacs freed their village and they were overwhelmed with gratitude and appreciation. On my first Anzac Day I left with no buttons or badges on my uniform. The children of the village had a tradition of collecting as much Australian military memorabilia, in exchange they would give us small metal Anzac soldier figurines. I later discovered that the figurines were made from First World War ammunition (bullets) that had been dug up in the local fields over the years. The following years I was well prepared with back-ups.
It was in a nearby region that, during my tenure in France, another four unidentified Anzacs were found by local farmers. It was decided that they should be buried at a local Anzac cemetery with a ceremonial military funeral. In the presence of the Australian Ambassador to France and the Chief of Army, I had the unique privilege of being Guard Commander with our resident team to say farewell to our Diggers and honour their sacrifice, ‘Lest We Forget’.
In memory of our fallen Anzac Unnamed Soldiers
About the author
Ron Dempster is Head of Business Development, Defence, Australia, at BAE Systems Digital Intelligence
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