Remembrance Day

(Part 1 of 3)

Lest we forget

The horrors of World War I were unimaginable.

Fought over four years on three continents, resulting in 37 million military personnel either killed, wounded or missing in action.

For years the war stalled in the north of France as the two combatants entrenched themselves. The battles that broke out in this theatre resulted in the death of thousands each day, with neither side making any progress.

Conditions were appalling. Soldiers lived in mud, infested by mosquitoes and flies. Disease was rampant. Medical care was threadbare. The only conversation between the warring parties was spoken through bombs, salvos and bullets.

Military commanders took some time to understand the lethal power of their new weaponry. Artillery was more deadly than at any time in history. The war was fought in the air. The battlefields were marred by poison gases.

For years the lines did not move. There was no end in sight. Which side would blink first?

The beginning of 1918, the last year of the war, looked bleak for the Allies. As Peter Fitzsimons describes in his new book “”Victory at Villiers-Bretonnneux” in March 1918, the Germans launched Kaiserschlacht – the biggest set-piece battle in history. Two million German soldiers hurled themselves at the Allied line. They sought to split the British and French forces, capture Villiers-Bretonneaux and Amiens, upset the Allies supply lines and take a decisive step towards ending the war.

The German plan succeeded and in its first few weeks, Allied positions fell under German advances including Villiers-Bretonneaux. As one Australian soldier lamented in his diary

The Germans are within two miles of Albert. Just think of that after all the blood and agony spent in winning this hellish piece of country in the Somme battles of 1916 & now it is all gone for nothing & the Hun is still going strong.

In one of the most courageous counter-attacks during the War, the Australian 13th Brigade recaptured Villiers-Bretonneaux and stalled the German march to certain victory.

Today above every blackboard in every primary school in Villiers-Bretonneaux is written “N’oublions jamais l’Australie” – Never Forget Australia.

But how did the Allies push to victory within 6 months?