New Fromelles Museum to Honour Diggers

Wonderful news that the Australian Government is to fund a new museum at Fromelles, the site of our nation’s darkest day back on 19 July 1916, when we suffered 5500 casualties in a single night, including almost 2000 killed.

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The Battle of Fromelles was the first time Australian troops had fought on the Western Front and many of those whose lives were snuffed out on that disastrous night had already survived the eight-month Gallipoli campaign.

The villagers of Fromelles, led by Martial Delebarre of the Association pour le Souvenir de la Bataille de Fromelles, have been collecting artefacts from the surrounding killing fields for decades and they have created one of the finest small WWI collections in France and Belgium, which they display in a series of attic rooms above the Town Hall. (Check out their website: http://www.asbf14-18.org/)

The new museum, designed by the Paris-New York firm, Serero Architects, will form a key element in the Western Front Remembrance Trail, to be ready for the centenary of WWI in 2014. The trail will be enhanced by an interpretive facility at Pozieres and improvements to the road near the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux and the restoration of the German trenches at Mon St Quentin.

The museum will be housed in an octagonal concrete building, sited next to the new Pheasant Wood Cemetery, which contains the remains of the missing soldiers of the battle, recently found in a mass grave dug by the Germans in the days after the battle. (check the design plans here: http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/227498/20111008/museum-of-the-fromelles-fight-serero-architectes.htm )

The building has been designed around two axes: one connecting it with the Pheasant Wood Cemetery and the other to a lobby featuring a stunning view of the Fromelles church spire across the road. The provisional budget is 1.3 million Euros ($A1.75m).

Perhaps now the Australian authorities will reconsider their previous inaction by adding the battle honour “Fromelles” to our major national shrines to give it recognition worthy of our Diggers’ sacrifice there.

Our Fallen are never Forgotten

Just back from a trip to Gallipoli and the WWI Western Front battlefields.

It was a wonderfully enriching experience, made all the more memorable by the superb work of the staff of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission throughout France and Belgium.

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Without exception, every cemetery or memorial we visited was immaculate. At most venues maintenance work was underway while we visited, a never-ending tribute to the fallen whose sacrifices live on in the legacy of freedom enjoyed by those who visit and those who live there.

Similarly in Turkey. I hold a profound respect and gratitude for the Turkish nation’s dedication of the Gallipoli memorial park and for the gracious way they allow visitors to pay their respects there. How many nations have set aside tracts of their land as memorials to the soldiers who tried to invade and conquer them?

The Gallipoli campaign represented a magnificent victory for the Turks and it opened the way for the nation to emerge from the Ottoman Empire to become a modern republic. But the Turks also recognize the importance of the campaign to the fledgling nations of Australia and New Zealand in particular and their continuing generosity welcomes those from Down Under as they come to pay their respects.

I was particularly proud to see the beautiful new Pheasant Wood Cemetery for the first time. It honours the Missing Soldiers from the Battle of Fromelles on a prime piece of the town’s land, dedicated by the people of Fromelles. It stands as a tribute to the sacrifices of the fallen and to the persistence of those who fought to ensure the missing were not forgotten but were recovered and buried with dignity.