It was an amazing experience to be in these towns on the Somme for ANZAC Day but oh, what an absolute waste of lives. So so many of them, and so so many of them never retrieved. Just marked with a white cross in a Commonwealth War Grave with ‘Unknown’ as their epitaph.
I wrote a story quite a few years ago now based on the fact that the families were only allowed ’66 letters less spaces’ to write an epitaph for their son, or brother, or husband or uncle etc.
Our first stop was Victoria School in Villers Bretonnoux. This is the school which was paid for by the Victorian Government after WW1 as extending the hand of friendship to the town. The whole town of Villers Bretonnoux was decked out with Australian flags and kangaroos and anything else Australian.
We went out to the Australian Memorial and the John Monash Centre. The Centre is so well done, with audio and films and artefacts…but it got to the stage where there is only so much you can take in…it is all too heartbreaking.
At Pozieres we went to the Tommy’s Cafe where at the outside museum you can see a recreation of the trench warfare. It is the most realistic one I have ever seen. I guess the local farmers keep digging up relics and the cafe owner keeps adding them to his museum.
As poignant as they all were, the one which hit hardest was the Thiepval Memorial. It commemorates the 72,205 men of the British and South African armies who died or went missing in the Somme between July 1915 and march 1918. The name of every man is inscribed on the walls of the memorial. The memorial is huge and there are 300 crosses to mark just some of the missing.
I can’t begin to imagine what it must have been like to be living through WW1 and hearing the reports of the number of casualties. That went on and on and on.