I rise today to share with the Chamber my experience in France and Belgium as a representative of the Government and the people of South Australia in July this year. I was humbled to be able to visit the war graves in Tyne Cot Cemetery, Hill 60, VC Corner and Pheasant Wood. These cemeteries are the final resting places for many Australian soldiers who left this country to travel to the other side of the world and fight on The Western Front. Soldiers who courageously fought to protect our values and freedom. As a result, these soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice. These cemeteries do not just represent the sacrifice of these soldiers, but the sacrifice made by their families who did not have the fortune of their loved ones returning home.
Flanders is a name that is familiar to many Australians. It is here in 1917 where the Third Battle of Yrpes took place. This battle is commonly known as the Battle of Passchendaele and was a major offensive against the German line and one of the largest in the war. Australian Forces were heavily involved throughout the fighting, in an effort to prevent a German blockade, with German troops redeploying from the Eastern Front.
Playing a pivotal role, Australian Divisions participated in the First Battle of Passchendaele, Menin Road, Polygon Wood, Broodseinnde, and Poelcapelle; much of which was fought in horrific conditions. These battles are also known as the ‘Battle of Mud,’ heavy rain and artillery bombardment damaged the areas drainage system to such an extent that fields became impassable. As a result of the mud, soldiers laying wounded on the battlefield, drowned in the mud. By the end of the fighting, Australian casualties numbered 38,000.
Because of the sacrifices made by Australia’s young men, Tyne Cot is deeply moving and sombre. Its cemetery holds the largest contingent of Commonwealth war graves, including the highest number of Australian war graves in any one location, totalling 1369 servicemen.
Following our visit to Tyne Cot, I was honoured to pay my respects to those Australian Soldiers who gave their lives at the Battle of Hill 60 in 1915. The Hill 60 Cemetery lays on the battlefield from 1915, as those who died in the fighting would be buried amongst the trenches, shortly after. The cemetery itself came into being during the fighting and only grew following the end of the war. It is where the casualties of the Australian 18th Battalion and the 9th Australian Light Horse Regiment still lay.
I was also fortunate to attend the cemeteries at VC Corner and Pheasant Wood in Fromelles to commemorate the sacrifices made by Australian soldiers in Fromelles. In particular, the Battle of Pozieres was significant firefight for the Australian Armed Forces in World War 1. The town itself was of great strategic importance, its position would allow the forces to dominate the ridgeline along The Front.
During these Battles, Australian soldiers forged bonds with the local Belgians and French, which carry on to this day. A clear example of this is the history between the Australian Armed Forces and the town of Blangy-Tronville. The focal point of the tribute in Blangy-Tronville was the local school. Here, it was evident that this town has never forgotten the sacrifice made by Australian soldiers. I was fortunate enough to meet the Mayor of Blangy-Tronvill, Mr Eric Gueant. Together, we paid tribute to those who served in the Battle of VIllers-Bretonneux.
To commemorate the Centenary of WW1, Blany-Tronville changed the name of its school to the ‘Arthur Stribling School.’ Private Arthur Stribling, was a South Australian man from Tarlee who passed from wounds sustained at Villers-Bretonneux. His sacrifice was chosen as a symbol for those who died fighting for the 50th Australian Infantry Battalion and those who are serving to protect the freedoms
and values that both Australia and France share.
I wish once again to thank Veterans SA for their exemplary work in organising each visit.