In the First World War, on 24 April 1918, the small town of Villers-Bretonneux was the site of the world’s first battle between two tank forces: three British Mark IVs against three German A7Vs. The Germans took the town, but that night and the next day it was recaptured by 4th and 5th Division of the AIF at a cost of over twelve hundred Australian lives. The people of Villers-Bretonneux remain indebted to Australia for this feat. The town’s mayor spoke of the Australian troops on 14 July 1919 when unveiling a memorial in their honour:
“The first inhabitants of Villers-Bretonneux to re-establish themselves in the ruins of what was once a flourishing little town have, by means of donations, shown a desire to thank the valorous Australian Armies, who with the spontaneous enthusiasm and characteristic dash of their race, in a few hours drove out an enemy ten times their number…They offer a memorial tablet, a gift which is but the least expression of their gratitude, compared with the brilliant feat which was accomplished by the sons of Australia…Soldiers of Australia, whose brothers lie here in French soil, be assured that your memory will always be kept alive, and that the burial places of your dead will always be respected and cared for…”
The Australian War Memorial in France is located in Villers-Bretonneux and in front of it lie the graves of over 770 Australian soldiers, as well as those of other British Empire soldiers involved in the campaign. The school in Villers-Bretonneux was rebuilt using donations from school children of Victoria, Australia (many of whom had relatives perish in the town’s liberation), and above every blackboard is the inscription “N’oublions jamais l’Australie” (Never forget Australia).12 The annual ANZAC Day ceremony is held at this village on Anzac Day, 25 April, each year. Traditionally, Australian commemorations have focussed on Gallipoli. However, the 2008 ANZAC Day commemoration focussed on the Western Front, and a special dawn service marking the 90th anniversary of the battle of 24/25 April 1918 was held on Anzac Day itself at Villers-Bretonneux.
This image was captured at Crucifix corner, near the larger Villers Bretonneux memorial site. In this site there are French, Australian and Muslim soldiers who fought, died and will be remembered together.