© Villers-Bretonneux, Mémorial National Australien et Centre Sir John Monash, Photos de soldats dans une salle de projection | CRTC Hauts-de-France - AS Flament

In Villers Bretonneux: a feeling of international fraternity

Every 25th April, before sunrise, from Melbourne to Villers-Bretonneux via Tonga and Samoa, the ANZAC Day (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) ceremony takes place, paying tribute to the 540 000 soldiers from Australia and New Zealand who died during the First World War.

Northern France_Villers-Bretonneux _ Sir John Monash Centre © CRTC Hauts-de-France - AS FlamentNorthern France_Villers-Bretonneux _ Sir John Monash Centre © CRTC Hauts-de-France - AS Flament
©Northern France_Villers-Bretonneux, Sir John Monash Centre| CRTC Hauts-de-France - AS Flament

Villers Bretonneux is probably the best-known French town in Australia. On a small hill overlooking the countryside is a memorial dedicated to soldiers from Australia and New Zealand. From the top of the tower, you have a sweeping view of the now calm landscape, stretching to the horizon where the Cathédrale d’Amiens, 10 miles away, can be seen on a clear day. 450 000 Australian soldiers enrolled in the Australian Imperial Force during the Great War, that is 40 % of the mobilizable male population, 10% of the entire population of the country!

But who were these soldiers who came to fight so far from home? Most of them were young and all were volunteers. To get a better grasp of their story, you should visit the new Sir John Monash Centre, named after the Commander-in-Chief of the Australian troops who changed the course of the war resulting in the outstanding victory of the battle of Amiens in August 1918.

The Centre offers an immersive experience, following in the footsteps of the Diggers. You enter by a downward ramp reminiscent of a trench that rapidly plunges you into the world of these soldiers from the Antipodes. “We wanted our visitors to have a real experience, that’s why the museum is immersive and very interactive,” explains Caroline Bartlett, manager of the Centre in 2020.

The visit is rich, intuitive, but also flexible and can be adapted for all publics with educational videos and audio commentaries. “They were all volunteers. 46 000 fell on the Western Front and never saw the plains of Australia again. We wanted testimonies to pay tribute to them,” continues Caroline Bartlett. “We rely heavily on audio, it makes you feel as if you are really there, immersed, and that tends to loosen tongues, the resulting emotions making the visitors talk to each other.”

Local’s tip

Christine Tampigny Portrait RecChristine Tampigny Portrait Rec
Poppy biscuits!

I love the “Biscuiterie du Coquelicot” in Albert (Philippe Feret is the owner). It’s a great place for a snack or to buy a gift before you leave. They have specialities made with poppies (the symbol of the Great War): waffle wafers, cordials, sweets … What I like most in this shop is, without the shadow of a doubt, the poppy petal shortbread. It’s absolutely delicious! You can also buy regional specialties such as cornflower cordial, chicory wafers, and products made from sea-buckthorn from the Somme bay…

Christine Tampigny, Advisor in the Tourist Office, expert in heritage outings and nature walks in Haute-Somme

Useful info