Friday 16 May 2008 by Robyn Van Dyk. 5 comments
News, Battlefield Tours, Western Front

Villers-Bretonneux and Bullecourt are two towns on the Western Front that continue to have an ongoing connection with Australia. Due to the warmth and hospitality of the locals in receiving us, the battlefield tour will also not easily forget these towns.

The tiny town of Bullecourt includes a pub called Le Canberra and one of the finest private museums in Northern France. The Bullecourt Musée contains a jumble of rare and interesting collection items found in the local fields. It was started by the Mayor of Bullecourt, Jean Letaille in the 1980's and was greatly expanded following his retirement. The tour joined Jean and some of the locals of Bullecourt for a lunch at the town hall.

Le Canberra Bullecourt and Jean Letaille former Town Mayor

When you stand on the Bullecourt Road you can see a line of trees. These mark the railway embankment and the Australian start line for the Bullecourt battle. The Bullecourt Digger is erected to the memory of the 10,000 Australians killed in the two battles of Bullecourt in April and May 1917. It is the work of Australian sculptor Peter Corlett . The Soldier is wearing the uniform and equipment carried by the AIF in the battle. When Corlett originally set out to create the sculpture he was unaware that his father had fought at Bullecourt with the 4th field ambulance. With this knowledge he decided to use a photograph of his father to create the ‘fresh face of a young man about to set off on a great adventure'.

Bullecourt Digger Peter Corlett Statue

The German army launched a major offensive on the 21st March 1918 called operation Michael. In the final effort of their campaign to break through the Germans captured the town of Villers-Bretonneux. The town was recognised as a strategic key point in the defence of Amiens. By 1918 the Australian army were a tougher and more professional force and the successful counter attack by the Australians at Villers-Bretonneux played a major role in ending the German ‘Spring Offensive' on the Somme. The Australian National Memorial stands to the north of the town on the high ground. From here we could see the strategic importance of this ground.

Looking west towards Amiens from the Australian National War Memorial, Villers–Bretonneux tower

The school at Villers-Bretonneux is called Victoria School and carries the words 'N’oublions jamais l’Australie'. At the end of the First World War the school children of Victoria subscribed money to rebuild Villers-Bretonneux. John Grant, the art master at the Technical School in Daylesford, Victoria was commissioned to carve wooden panels for the school consisting of Australian fauna and flora. The panels arrived from Australia 1926/7 and decorate the school hall today.

The local school at Villers-Bretonneux

Comments

Robyn Masters

Great post Robyn; excellent pics as well. I understand that there was a rare breed of butterfly at Bullecourt that is now extinct following the AWM Luncheon :) Cheers, Robyn

Dujardin C.

Dear Robyn, I like to read the AWM website.I find it so interesting for me because I am a "fan" of the WW1 Diggers and I like so much their slouch hat. I was at Villers-Bretonneux the 26th April 2008. Je n'oublie pas les Australiens. Regards, claire from Charleroi ,Hainaut-Belgique

Robert Carlisle

Robyn...my wife and I were at VB Memorial for the dawn service this year (cold,cold, cold!! ) and attended the VB school for morning tea that day. Terrific toll up of Aussies. Prior to the battle in which the Diggers re-captured VB ( under the command of Pompey Elliot ) some other famous words were uttered "Fini retreat madame,beaucoup Australiens ici" ( no more retreat Madame,many Australians here ). These words of comfort were spoken to a distraught French lady in the village of Heilly. An old French man standing nearby told the lady "Pas necessaire maintenant-vous les tiendrez, vous les tiendrez" ( no need to leave now, you'll hold them, you'll hold them ). The Digger says "Well, we'll just have to make sure the old bloke isn't disappointed". In a daring attack they re-captured VB on Anzac Day 1918. The school and townspeople are a testament to the long memories of the French.

Stewart Black

I am directly related to Major Percy Black and intend to visit Bullecourt in September 2011. I would like to contact Jean Letaille (museum owner) to ensure it is open when we arrive.

Phil Andrews

Monsieur Jean Letaille 1 Rue d'Arras 62128 Bullecourt France Tel no 0033 3.21.48.92.46. As you probably realise, it's not open "normal" hours, so it's a good idea to check ahead. Admission is free but donations are appreciated! It's a fascinating place and Jean is a lovely man. He speaks a bit of English too...