Villers-Bretonneux will forever be associated with Australian forces as it was here, after retaking the French town on 25 April 1918 – the third anniversary of the Australian landings on Gallipoli, known as ANZAC Day, they sealed their reputation as one of the finest formations of soldiers available to any side during the First World War. Tomorrow, 25 April, thousands will travel to Villers-Bretonneux to mark ANZAC Day. Ahead of the commemorations, here are nine things you need to know about Australian forces in the First World War and Villers-Bretonneux.
- The battles for Villers-Bretonneux were fought during the German Spring Offensive of 1918 which began on 21 March 1918, and within two weeks German troops had advanced over 50 kilometres.
- The Germans intended to capture the vital Allied city of Amiens. Their advance was halted just 10 kilometres from Amiens by British and Australian troops on 4/5 April 1918 at the French town of Villers-Bretonneux.
- In the early hours of 24 April the Germans launched a surprise attack against the defenders of Villers-Bretonneux, and German infantry, supported by tanks, overran the Allied defences.
- During the fierce fighting on 24 April a British Mark IV tank, No.4066, opened fire on ‘Nixe’, a German A7V tank. This is believed to be the first tank vs tank engagement in history.
- In a daring night attack on 24/25 April the Australian 5th Division, with supporting British units, counter-attacked. By dawn the Germans had been driven from the town and their progress towards Amiens had finally been stopped for good.
- On 8 August 1918, the British launched the Battle of Amiens. It was known to the Germans as, “the black day of the German Army”. From Villers-Bretonneux, the Australian 3rd Division advanced under the command of the Australian General John Monash.
- Villers-Bretonneux will forever be associated with Australian forces. The night attack to retake Villers-Bretonneux on the third anniversary of the Australian landings on Gallipoli, known as ANZAC Day, and the fighting on 8 August, sealed their reputation as one of the finest formations of soldiers available to any side during the First World War.
- After the end of the war it was decided that the Australian National Memorial would be built at Villers-Bretonneux. Designed by the Commission architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens, it commemorates more than 11,000 members of Australian forces who died in France and have no known grave.
- A new visitor interpretation centre focusing on Australian forces on the Western Front has been built at the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial. The Sir John Monash Centre will be unveiled on ANZAC Day, 25 April 2018 - the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Villers-Bretonneux.
Villers-Bretonneux Cemetery and Memorial
CWGC Villers-Bretonneux Cemetery was created after the Armistice, when graves were brought from the surrounding battlefields and nearby burial grounds. It is the final resting place of more than 2,100 servicemen, of whom more than 600 remain unidentified. Of those whose names are known, more than 700 served with Australian forces.
At the rear of the cemetery, the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial commemorates by name nearly 11,000 servicemen of Australian forces who died in France and have no known grave. The memorial was unveiled by King George VI on 22 July 1938 - less than two years later the ground was once again a battlefield, and the memorial and cemetery still bear some scars of the Second World War.