Australian Remembrance Trail along the Western Front
Australia's commitment on the Western Front between 1916 and 1918 was one of the most important events in our nation's history. For the first time, Australians played a major role in world events, and made a substantial contribution to the outcome of the war. The Western Front had a fundamental effect on Australia's approach to war, as well as on Australian politics, families, and national attitudes.
The Western Front directly touched the lives of countless Australian families. 290,000 Australians served on the Western front. Over 46,000 of them died: 75% of the approximately 60,000 Australians who died in the First World War. More than 130,000 Australians were wounded on the Western Front.
The Australian Remembrance Trail along the Western Front, funded by $10 million in the 2009-10 Federal Budget serves to help Australians and other visitors to the Western Front learn about the Australian experience of war in France and Belgium in the First World War.
At the time, it was decided not to establish a single national interpretive centre – the model employed by Britain at Thiepval and by Canada at Vimy. Instead, the Australian Remembrance Trail would build upon the existing efforts of French and Belgian communities in commemorating Australian service, some of which date back to the 1920s.
The Australian Remembrance Trail spans much of the nearly 200 kilometres of the Western Front where Australians served: from the Channel coast of Belgium to Montebrehain in France.
Supported by a comprehensive and easily accessible set of materials, the Australian Remembrance Trail will inform and guide visitors of all ages, levels of fitness, and amounts of travel time. Visitors will be able to view key locations at which Australians fought, and visit high quality interpretive centres that will present Australian material, while also visiting related sites of Australian interest.
The interpretive materials assume no prior knowledge of military history and will be available in a mix of traditional and digital media formats. The Australian Remembrance Trail and associated materials will provide ample opportunity for contemplative reflection.
The Australians on the Western Front 1914-1918 website is currently being redeveloped as a Virtual Visitors’ Centre for the Australian Remembrance Trail. It has received a significant update, and further features will be completed ahead of Anzac Day 2014. The website will provide audio, imagery and other materials in three languages, English, French and Dutch.
Through partnerships with French and Belgian local and regional authorities, the following projects are either completed or currently underway, with sites due to be completed in time for the Anzac Centenary in 2014-18.
- At Pozières, where Australia sustained 23,000 casualties in little over six weeks in 1916, improved visitor facilities will provide new interpretation, parking, traffic access, toilet and picnic facilities. A number of walks, supported by both traditional signage and digital media, will encompass points of significance including the 1st Australian Division Memorial, the Gibraltar blockhouse that was captured by Australians, and the Windmill site, ‘a ridge more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other place on earth’ (C.E.W. Bean). The new interpretive facilities in the memorial park adjacent to the 1st Australian Division Memorial will be officially opened on 26 April 2014 by the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs.
- At Villers-Bretonneux an extension to and major refurbishment of the Franco-Australian Museum, which commemorates the decisive battle fought there by Australians on the night of 24-25 April 1918, will be completed. Located within the Victoria School, which was built with money raised in Australia after the War, the museum also honours the remarkable relationship between the town and Australia that continues to this day.
Close by are the Australian National Memorial, site of the Australian Government led Anzac Day Dawn Service, and the Adelaide Cemetery, from where the Unknown Soldier was disinterred before his reinterment in the Hall of Memory at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra in 1993. To improve visitor access and safety, major roadworks in front of the Australian National Memorial were completed in late 2013. New parking facilities and landscaping works are now underway, to be completed ahead of Anzac Day 2014, with some minor aesthetic works to follow in May 2014.
- A new museum at Fromelles, adjacent to the Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery, will be officially opened on 18 July 2014. The museum will tell the story of Australia’s first battle in France, the disastrous 1916 Battle of Fromelles, and include objects on loan from the Australian War Memorial and other collections. It will also tell the story of the discovery in 2008 near Pheasant Wood, and the 2009 recovery, of the remains of 250 Australian and British soldiers who died at Fromelles in 1916, previously recorded as missing, and their reinterment and commemoration in the Fromelles Military Cemetery. Nearby, are the existing Cobbers memorial, and V.C. Corner Australian Cemetery and Memorial.
- At Péronne, working in partnership with l’Historial de la Grande Guerre, the Australian Remembrance Trail will assist visitors to interpret the battles for Mont St Quentin and Péronne. These battles are considered by many to be among the greatest achievements of the Australian Army in the First World War. The works will include an interpretive room in l’Historial and walking trails at Mont St Quentin and Péronne and are planned for completion in 2014. Visit l’Historial de la Grande Guerre website.
- A new museum at Bullecourt, building on the efforts of Jean Letaille, OAM. This new museum opened on Anzac Day 2012 and tells the story of the two bloody battles fought by Australians at Bullecourt in April and May 1917. Since the opening of the new museum visitation has increased 400%. Nearby in the Bullecourt Memorial Park is the Digger memorial, site of an Australian Government led ANZAC Day service.
- The Australian Remembrance Trail incorporates the existing Australian Corps Memorial at Le Hamel which commemorates and interprets the 4 July 1918 Battle of Le Hamel. The battle was fought by the Australian Corps who were led for the first time by General John Monash. This ‘model victory’ would become the template for future Allied operations on the Western Front. The Memorial at Le Hamel was formally rededicated in 2008 by Governor-General Bryce following significant restorations and upgrades to facilities. Unfortunately, since that time the harsh climate has led to a number of issues arising affecting the amenity of the site. Following Anzac Day 2014, the Memorial at Le Hamel will close between May and November 2014 to allow remediation works to be conducted.
- The Plugstreet 14-18 Experience interpretive centre at Ploegsteert, focussing on the Australian contribution to the Battle of Messines, opened on 9 November 2013. Located adjacent to the Ploegsteert Memorial, the new centre is also close to Toronto Avenue Cemetery, the only all Australian cemetery in Belgium. Visit the Plugstreet 14-18 Experience website.
- A new Australian display at the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 in Zonnebeke opened on 12 July 2013. Nearby is Tyne Cot Cemetery, the largest Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in the world, which incorporates several wartime German blockhouses captured by Australians. Visit the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 website.
- The In Flanders Fields Museum at Ieper (Ypres) which reopened in 2012 after a major refurbishment has incorporated new Australian content. A short walk away is the Menin Gate Memorial, site of the moving Last Post Ceremony each evening and a remarkable point at which to start or finish a visit to the Western Front. Visit the In Flanders Fields Museum website.