The Battle of Villers-Bretonneux 24th-25th April 1918
One hundred years ago on the 25th April 1918 the battle of Villers-Bretonneux in France took place, and the subsequent pushing back of German forces, is described as a crucial turning point.
Two Australian brigades took part in the counter-attack to stop the German spring offensive on the night of the 24th April 1918, along with three British battalions. These brave soldiers were determined to counter-attack as it was the eve of the third anniversary of the original ANZAC Day. It is estimated that 2,400 Australians died in the battle to recapture the town.
"They overcame the Germans north of the town in a famously irresistible charge." At the time it earned the praise of the British who saw it, and called it one of the most outstanding manoeuvres of the war, the fact the Australians worked without reconnaissance to retake the town is a testament to their skill.
By the dawn of the 25th April, (three years after the initial landing at Gallipoli), the Australians had broken through the German entrenchment. It took the rest of the day and into the next to secure Villers-Bretonneux and create a new front line to the east, ending the German offensive on the Somme. Those Germans who were not captured or killed were then pushed back towards the woods adjacent to Villers-Bretonneux.
The town did not fall into enemy hands for the rest of WWI.
While hundreds of lives were lost in the battle, the people of Villers-Bretonneux have not forgotten the Australian sacrifice. The Australian flag continues to fly over the town to this day
Recognition of the significance of the battle can be found at the Australian National Memorial, built just outside the town. It was approved by the Australian Government after WWI, to commemorate the sacrifice of the Australian Imperial Forces on the Western Front. Unveiled in July 1938 by Queen Elizabeth, the memorial contains the names of the 11,000 Australians missing in action in France.
Each year on Anzac Day, a dawn service ceremony is held at the memorial.
After WWI money donated by school children in Victoria Australia was used to build a new school in Villers-Bretonneux, named the Victoria school. A plaque at the school says it is "proof of their love and goodwill towards France". And in the Victoria School's playground and above the blackboards is written: "Do not forget Australia".
Jenny Weaver – Publicity Officer Canowindra RSL Sub-Branch
Lest We Forget