By Benjamin Hayes, Battlefield Groups Coordinator
We organised three groups for the Centenary of The Battles of Fromelles and Pozieres in July this year. Two of our most experienced guides Mr Graeme Beveridge
and Mr Rod Margetts
both led groups and the third group was organised for The Friends of The 15th Brigade and was jointly led by Mr Lambis Englezos and Major General Mike O’Brien. All groups attended the Centenary Commemorative Services at Fromelles on 19 July 2016 and Pozieres on 23 July 2016 as well us undertaking visits to all the important Australian Battlefield sites on the Western Front.
The weather was sent to test us on 19 July at Fromelles where it was in the low to mid-30s for most of the day. All groups arrived in Fromelles by 10am and there were 2 services scheduled for the day. The first was the Dedication Service for the 6 soldiers buried at Pheasant Wood who have recently been identified which everyone could attend. The second service starting at 5.15pm at VC Corner was for invited guests only but could be viewed on the big screens set-up Commemorative Site at Pheasant Wood.
With the hot weather taking its toll most group members decided to return to their respective hotels at the conclusion of the first service. The majority of the Friends of The 15th group showed true dedication staying in Fromelles until 9pm when they undertook a Battlefield Walk following in the steps of the 58th Battalion. The main attack at Fromelles was launched at 6pm, which the 58th Battalion was not involved in as half the battalion was designated for stretcher-bearer duties and the other half designated as the 15th Brigade reserve. The reserve was disastrously committed at 9pm with levitra buy generic rx
the attack being devastated by German machine gun fire.
We were favoured with better weather on 23 July for the service at Pozieres. This was a much more intimate experience with just the single service scheduled at 4pm and in the much smaller Commemorative Site set-up around the 1st Division Memorial located next to the village.
The Battle of Pozieres Ridge involved the First, Second and Fourth Australian Divisions and it was impressive to see the Queen's and Regimental colours of current Australian Army units with a historical link to one of the thirty six battles involved. The Ceremony was a fitting tribute 100 years on to all the men who fought in this terrible battle that resulted in over 23,000 casualties. C.E.W Bean said it best when he stated Pozieres Ridge “is more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other place on earth”.
For many tour participants there is a strong element of personal pilgrimage when joining one of our tours and this was certainly the case with the groups in July. Unfortunately many pilgrimages are to visit graves or memorials where soldiers were killed but with no known grave are remembered. Where possible we incorporate these visits into the day-to-day itinerary but due to the location of some cemeteries it is not always possible. When this occurs we do everything possible to visit the particular cemetery either before or after the normal touring or during periods of free time.
During the July tours I had the privilege of taking some participants on visits to cemeteries that could not be included in the day to day itinerary, such as the visit to Pernois British Cemetery with Philip & Robyn from Graeme Beveridge’s group, to visit the grave of John Eugene Ramsay. This was a very picturesque location, although was out in the middle of nowhere, halfway between Arras and Amiens and you get the sense it was not often visited. This cemetery is maintained by The Commonwealth War Graves Commission and like all of them was beautifully kept…no mean feat given there are over 900 in France and Belgium alone!
All groups finished with a night or two in Paris and the final dinner was a wonderful dinner cruise on the Seine. It is always a little sad when the tours finish as we all shared some special experiences in the couple of weeks we spent together, but of course the experience will stay with everyone forever. To view all the photographs taken on this once in a lifetime tour, please visit our gallery by clicking here