Fouilloy, Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardy, France
In 1918, the Germans took the Somme village of Villers‑Bretonneux only for the 4th and 5th Australian divisions to retake the entire village the very next day. The memorial at Villers‑Bretonneux commemorates the Australians who fought and died in the Great War.
Villers‑Bretonneux is a northern French town 20 kilometres east of Amiens, the scene of a vital battle towards the end of WWI.
The Second Battle of Villers-Bretonneux in April 1918 was the world’s first battle between two tank divisions; three British Mark VI tanks were pitted against three German A7V tanks and on 24th April 1918, the Germans were victorious in their spring offensive named Operation Michael, taking the strategically important town.
However the next day, the 4th and 5th brigades alongside units from the 8th and 18thbrigades of the First Australian Imperial Force recaptured the town (at a cost of something like 1,200 lives) and thus stopped the Germans from getting to Amiens on a last, desperate push west.
Between the towns of Villers‑Bretonneux and Fouilloy is the Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery. Designed by none other than Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens, the celebrated 19th and 20th century architect, the memorial is a beautiful tower including a Cross of Sacrifice surrounded by walls and panels listing 10,773 names of Australian soldiers still officially recorded as MIA, many of whom fell with no known graves.
The memorial reads: To the Glory of God and in memory of the Australian Imperial Force in France and Flanders 1916–1918 and of eleven thousand who fell in France and have no known grave. It was unveiled in July 1938 by King George VI and every year on ANZAC Day (April 25th), a dawn service is held at the memorial.
Today visitors can visit the museum and see the portico, the Memorial Wall of Names, the Memorial Register and the Stone Map depicting local battle sites involving the Australian soldiers.
The tower is open daily from 8:30am until 6:30pm from 1st April to the 1st October, and 8:30am until 5:30pm from 2nd October to the 31st March, with access restricted during bad weather. The names on the memorial are engraved on the memorial in order of battalion, then alphabetically under rank.
Wheelchair access to Villers-Bretonneux Cemetery and the Australian National Memorial is via a ramp or lift next to the new orientation building in the car park.
Getting to Villers‑Bretonneux
Villers-Bretonneux is a village 20 kilometres east of Amiens on the straight main road to St Quentin. Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery is about 2 kilometres north of the village on the east side of the road to Fouilloy. There is parking available on site.