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Thursday, 16 May 2013

Villers Bretonneux and the Aussie Diggers.

Thursday 9/5/13

First thing this morning we found ourselves back at the Adelaide Cemetery. The Adelaide Cemetery was started in 1918 by the Second and Third Divisions of the AIF and initially contained ninety graves. After the armistice more graves were brought here from other small graveyards in the area. There are now nine hundred and fifty five Commonwealth servicemen buried or commemorated here. Nearly a thousand lives cut short. Such a waste. Of those, two hundred and sixty one are unidentified. There are four hundred and eleven British, twenty two Canadian, and five hundred and twenty three Australian soldiers here. In 1993 and unknown Australian soldier was exhumed from Plot three, Row M, Grave thirteen, and is now buried in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

One side of this cemetery is full of Australian servicemen. The other side is also dotted with Australians.

It is a very disconsolate place.

The entrance holds visitor and information books.
The sad sight that greets you when you walk through the gate.

A lot of the graves have small decorations.

Like family photos.
Photos encased in perspex.
I wonder what Bill would have achieved if he had made it home to Australia.
Far too many of these. Unknown soldier.
This unknown soldier was taken home to Canberra.
The right hand side is all Australian.
The cemetery is very well maintained.
A big thank you to the caretakers.
We met a couple of Aussies from Sydney while we were here. Stephen and Deanna. We had a bit of a chat but the atmosphere here doesn't lend itself to a good conversation. More to contemplation. We all felt the same about the great loss. I left with a lump in my throat.
I had read about Adelaide Cemetery so in a way I was prepared for what was there. I wasn't prepared for what we saw next. As we were riding back into town I saw a sign that read Villers-Bretonneux Memorial, so we went to have a look.

The Villers-Bretonneux Memorial is home to 10,762 war dead. Nearly 11,000 people. The Australian flag flies next to the French flag, and the majority of the headstones carry the Australian Infantry Forces insignia.
West Aussie Corporal Ball was awarded the Military Medal for bravery in battle.
Aussie and French flags side by side.

More Aussies.
Rod Bruce, a long way from home but always remembered.
This whole place made me feel proud of what our Diggers did, but also very sad.
We had a quiet ride back into town to find some lunch, then go to the museum. What we didn't know that yesterday and today were public holidays in France commemorating the end of the second world war. So the museum was closed. It's actually a part of the local primary school.
Museum on the left, primary school on the right.
Well done kids.
For the people of this town to still hold Australia in such high regard is testament to the Diggers efforts here in 1918. Outnumbered by a large margin, they forced the German's out of the village, then held it, then advanced and pushed the German's back further. It must have been an unbelievably huge achievement by the Diggers for the village to adopt Australia in such a way.

If you're an Australian in France, you owe it to yourself, and our Diggers, to visit and pay your respects. It is a place I will never forget.
It was time to make our way to Calais. Off we go. On the way we came across some mobile chicanes. Some people call them Harley Davidsons.
Come on, come on, hurry up.


Where's the kitchen sink.

We rode through quite a few villages which were nice little places then when we were close to Calais, the sat nav sent us over a mega high bridge, then turned us around and sent us back again. Even Suzanne freaked when she saw how high this one was. It was the Tom Tom's last dig at us.

We checked in to our hotel and discovered that there was a bar near reception. After this morning's visits I needed a beer. As I was walking to the bar I said hello to a young couple playing pool, and got a G'day in return. It was a couple of kids (in their twenties) starting out on their trip around Europe. Sorry guys, I'm old and I've forgotten your names. The guy grew up one suburb away from Suzanne in Victoria. What are the odds?

Grimbergen Rouge? Red beer? What the?
It's actually very nice.
After we had a drink we dumped our gear in our room and headed out for dinner. We decided that as it was our last meal in Europe (for this trip) we'd splurge a little. We found a bar that served food and enjoyed a delicious last supper.
This is how the sun set on the end of our European holiday.

It's an early start tomorrow so we don't want to miss the ferry. When we roll off the ferry it's a four hundred kilometre ride to Barry in Wales where we'll catch up with our Welsh mates Annmarie and Leigh. It's fitting that I end our holiday with Leigh as I met him right at the start on the ferry to the Isle of Man. 

Full circle.

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