Australian Battlefields of World War 1 Tour France and Belgium
When Australian troops were deployed to the Western Front in France and Belgium in 1916, the war had been going there for two years; there was an unbroken line of trenches from the Belgian coast to the Swiss border. To the east stood Germany. To the West stood the French, British, Belgian and Portuguese allies. This line was established in 1914, and had not moved much.
The four Australian Divisions, only two of which were fully combat experienced, were committed to Field Marshal Haig's 1916 offensive under British generals whose training and experience had been in the conflicts of a past century. Our soldiers fought hard but tactical, technical and command shortcomings meant many lives were lost for little gain.
In the next two years, our soldiers and their commanders learned their trade better than most of the others. Perhaps it was a kind of egalitarian spirit growing up in a society where authority tended to be discounted by the need to tame a savage environment. Perhaps it was a lack of military tradition that favoured innovation over the time honoured. Nonetheless in 1918, it was the Australian Corps of five divisions commanded by a brilliant engineer, a first generation Australian of Central European Jewish heritage (General Monash), who showed the World how the war could be won and played a large part in the 100 day offensive that forced its conclusion.
On this tour you will follow the course of Australia's War from the horrendous losses at Fromelles and Pozieres in 1916 to the turning points at Dernancourt and Villers-Bretonneux early in 1918 then to the triumph of the Battles of Amiens and great bend of the Somme. We will follow the footsteps of our soldiers to the furthest place east they reached, Montbrehain.
The service Battlefield History tours is renown for is making certain you get to visit the areas where your ancestors fought. Let us know who your ancestors were and we will make certain, within the scope of the tour, that you get walk in their footsteps. If they paid the ultimate price, a grave or memorial site visit will be facilitated where possible.
Cost: TBC (Price may vary due to volatility of the Australian Dollar on the international currency market.)
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Monday 19 April - PARIS: This is the day when we gather at our Paris hotel at Roissy en France near Charles de Gaulle. The remainder of the day and evening is free to relax and take in the local village of Roissy, which was the village before CDG Airport was built. It is a quaint little village with much history.
Tuesday 20 April - PARIS to IEPER: Following breakfast in our hotel we board our coach and depart our hotel at 0900. On the way to the area of the Western Front Battlefields we will visit Glade of the Armistice at Compiegne where the Armistice was signed ending the First World War and then visit the site of the famous Canadian victory at Vimy Ridge.
Lunch will be taken at a roadside restaurant.
We will then head further north to Ieper where we will start our tour in the steps of Monash as he commanded the 3rd Division in the successful Battle of Messines. We will attend the Menin Gate Service before dinner in our hotel or restaurant nearby B/D
Wednesday 21 April - IEPER: The first of our days touring the Ieper Salient battles. Our first call will be to visit the Irish Peace Park where we can discuss the battle of Messines Ridge. Monash had made sure that his 3rd Division was thoroughly trained before it took part in its first major action. While in that area we will move on to visit Hill 60 and then Polygon Wood. The Tunnelling Companies at Hill 60 fought in dreadful conditions underground and the action at Polygon Wood resulted in a costly victory. Those actions should be remembered. We will return to Ieper for Dinner. B/Boxed Lunch/D
Thursday 22 April - IEPER - The SOMME: Our last day in the Ieper Salient for tomorrow we head to the Somme. Dochy Farm is a good location to view from the starting line for the assault on Passchendaele before heading to Tyne Cot Cemetery which sits on the ground taken by the Australians. There are 11,000 graves in the cemetery including 2 Australian Victoria Cross winners. Following our visit we will travel along the Broodseinde Ridge where the 3rd Division fought. After lunch we will head back into Ieper for those wishing to visit the Cloth Hall Museum (optional - cost not included in tour price). Dinner will be in our hotel. B/Boxed Lunch/D
Friday 23 April - SOMME: Heading south to the Somme, where will be for the next 6 days, we will stop at Fromelles where the 5th Division was decimated on 19 July 1916. This is one of the most heart-breaking sites on the Western Front. The new Pheasant Wood Cemetery and museum opened in 2010, and contains the remains of men discovered in a nearby mass grave in 2008-10, and subsequently identified by DNA analysis. Leaving Fromelles we will make our way towards Peronne but we will visit Bullecourt on the way. This was a major 1917 Battle and we will discuss both the battles for Bullecourt that cost so many casualties on both sides. B/Boxed Lunch/D
Saturday 24 to Thursday 29 April - THE SOMME: For the next 6 days we will work our way through the Australian battles that took them to Montbrehain and their relief, for on the 5th October the Australian Corps was taken out of the line to recoup and retrain before being called forward again. However, the Corps was not called forward as the Armistice was signed before they were needed. We will start this phase at Dernancourt where the German advance of March 1918 was halted and then follow the 1918 Campaign right through to Montbrehain.
The 3rd Division was still under Monash and held the area between the Aisne and the Somme Rivers and we will look at the defence of Sailly Laurette on 30 March 1918. As we work our way east each day we will discuss the battles at Villers-Bretonneaux, visit The Adelaide Cemetery, Museum above the School and the Australian National Memorial, Le Hamel, Proyart, Morcourt, Mont St Quentin and then the areas further east until we finish at Montbrehain. Also, we will be able to attend the ANZAC Day Dawn Service at Villers-Bretonneux as it was this day 102 years ago that the Australians pushed the Germans from the village, the Germans were never to return. Each day we will take a boxed lunch with us so that we can spend the appropriate time at the sites discussing the action there. We will return to our hotel each evening for a deserved drink and dinner. B/Boxed Lunch/D (each day)
Friday 30 April -THE SOMME to PARIS: This morning after breakfast in our hotel our coach will be returning most to Paris. Paris would be an ideal location to plan to travel on, the drop will be at Charles de Gaulle Airport for connection to train and air services. However, if any of our group have decided to extend and stay in our hotel from where we commenced our tour, they would be dropped at the hotel. B
Your Tour Leader Lieutenant Colonel John Howells OAM RFD (Ret'd)
John is a retired Army Reserve Armoured Corps officer who served 32 years in the Defence Force Permanent and Reserve. In civil life he worked for the National Archives as a manager then major Banks managing IT systems.
He has worked on and led battlefield tours since 2008 to locations including Turkey, France, Greece, South Africa and the Solomon Islands.