When Australian troops landed on the beaches of Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 it was significant for two reasons, it was the first major involvement of ANZAC soldiers in World War One, and it marked the moment we became “Australia”, rather than just being another distant outpost of the British Empire.
It’s for this reason Gallipoli is engrained on the Australian national conscience and so many people link our efforts in World War One to those beaches of Gallipoli.
However I recently learned that after the Gallipoli campaign finished, our ANZAC soldiers went on to fight for two years in horrendous conditions in France and Belgium during 1916 to 1918.
I was also horrified to learn that far more soldiers fought in France and Belgium than ever fought in Turkey.
To put it into context, during 8 months of fighting in Turkey 8,000 Australian soldiers died, but 53,000 died in France and Belgium in the two years following Galipolli. Indeed 5,333 Australian soldiers were killed, wounded or taken prisoner in a single night at Fromelles near Lille in France.
To find out more I attended the “ANZAC Day on the Western Front Tour” organised by Pillow Adventure Travel.
The tour included the ANZAC Day dawn service at Villers-Bretonneux which was attended by over 5,000 people. We also visited major battlefields like Le Hamel, Pozieres, Bullecourt, Messines and Fromelles and saw the magnificent monuments to remember the sacrifice made by these young Australian men who fought such a long way from their home.
The highlight of the tour for me was visiting Menin Gate, a massive monument and archway near the town of Ypres in Belgium. On the monument are the names of 55,000 men who lost their lives fighting near this small town.
Every evening at 8pm the local people play the last post to remember those who gave their lives, and the sound echoes around the monument and you can’t help but feel very emotional. Although Gallipoli will always have its place, spending ANZAC Day in France is an unforgettable experience.
Larissa Clarke booked her tour with Pillow Adventure Travel Company Ltd, who specialise in festivals and events across the UK and Europe.
To learn more about Pillow, and find details about their “ANZAC Day on the Western Front Tour”, email [email protected]