A Visit to the Australian WWI Battlefields in France

Planning is the strength of all our travels but lack of planning almost ruined our visit to Amiens.

The plan to hire a rental car on arrival, and do a self-driving tour of the former Australian battlefields, immediately slipped into trouble because the rental companies have no desks at the railway station. No problem, I call Avis and book a car. Car booked I contacted the local representative, no cars available today. Out of time, we grabbed a cab and headed to the hotel, Formule 1 Amiens, a low cost business/traveller stop.

Formule 1 provides basic rooms with a sink, and communal showers and toilets that self-clean after every use. Out in the boonies, we thought food options ay be limited but we found a mega-mart nearby with the makings for great picnics and a McDonalds to keep the teenagers happy. Sometimes you get lucky without planning.

Next morning I took the bus into town to pick-up our reserved car but they still had none available. As Seinfeld said, ‘They know how to take the reservation, just not how to hold the reservation and that’s most important part’. Avis made my blacklist.

Providence intervened, I stumbled on Europcar on the way back, twenty minutes latter I headed off in a Renault Clio. A good car, friendly service and a willingness to help despite language problems, Europcar gets my future business. After gathering a picnic basket full of fresh food at the mega-mart, we headed out to Villers-Bretonneux.

The l’Ecole Victoria is a good first stop, the school built with donations from Victoria houses a small informative museum with some interesting Australian artifacts. A sign above the school grounds simply reads, ‘Never forget Australia’.

Numerous Australian memorials and war graves exist in the region, the main memorial just outside Villers-Bretonneux on the high ground overlooking the former battlefields. You get a better sense of the trench war stalemate that existed until 1918 when you can survey many of the famous battlefields from one hill; including Hamel, Amiens, Villers-Bretonneux, Pozieres and Mouguet Farm. Many visitors arrive to find their ancestor’s grave but I visited with the unknown soldiers who lie with their mates, only unto God.

The Hamel Memorial is in disrepair less than a decade after its dedication, a sad sight for any Australian visitor. Work is planned to restore the monument in time for the 90th Anniversary commemoration in 2008. Most of the damage is due to poor design and construction but there has also been some vandalism reported although not evident to us.

Americans often overlook this region for the D-Day Beaches and Verdun but some of their first battles in World War One occurred at the Somme with the Australians. American companies fought with the Australian Corps under LtGen Sir John Monash, and Australian SNCOs were embedded with American units to pass on their hard won battlefield knowledge.

Le Hamel Fast Facts:

Le Hamel is the first battle that the Australian Corps fought under Australian Command (LtGen Sir John Monash).

Monash predicted his force would achieve all objectives in 90 minutes, it took 93 minutes.

Two Australians, Private Henry Dalzie and Corporal Thomas Axford were awarded the Victoria Cross for their actions during the battle.

Corporal Thomas A Pope, US Army was awarded the first Medal of Honor of WWI for his actions at Le Hamel.

The King George V knighted Monash on the field after his victory at Le Hamel.