I rise today to acknowledge the Commemoration Ceremony of the Centenary of the Battle of Hamel. I was honoured to be asked to represent the Premier and the people of South Australia at the Australian National Commemorative Service on July 4 of this year. The observance itself, took place at the Australian Corps Memorial, Le Hamel, France.
The Battle of Hamel took place on July 4th, 1918 and was a pivotal moment in Australian Military History. The Allied forces were commanded by General Sir John Monash GC KCB VC, who was tasked with capturing a ridgeline east of the village of Le Hamel. A successful capture of the area would straighten the Allied Line on the Western Front, placing further pressure on the German Line. It was an important strategic location, as the ridgeline provided an elevated vantage point where German artillery had been able to fire upon Villers-Bretonneux. Australian servicemen would make up the bulk of the forces for the Allies, who would be involved in the battle with military tactics far removed to those seen earlier in the conflict.
This battle included the first Allied troops to see air drop of supplies while in action. Machine gun rounds were dropped to gunners in strategic locations. This careful approach would allow for the swift movement of Allied forces. From the use of reconnaissance planes, troop movements on both sides could be tracked and dispatched to the required commanding officers as the battle was being carried out, allowing them to manage and adjust their forces, as necessary. This aided the soldiers on the ground, who found themselves using new battlefield tactics. Co-ordinated attacks using infantry, new battle tanks and accurate artillery strikes were in stark contrast to the stagnant approach used throughout much of the war. These Combined Arms measures quickly overran dug-in German positions.
Monash, as the Commander of the Australian Imperial Forces, was also noted as being the first non-American to direct US forces during World War 1. For the first time in the war American troops were involved as part of an offensive action, where fighting alongside Australian companies, they would gain first-hand battlefield experience.
Due to his planning and preparation, the confrontation was hailed as a success. This is clearly evident in the estimated time General Monash had set for the engagement, he allotted 90 minutes – it took 93.
The Australian Corps Memorial itself is in a prominent location, having been established on a ridge which was captured during the battle. From this vantage point I was able to look across the fields where some of the heaviest fighting took place on that day, a century ago.
As a representative of the Premier and the people of South Australia, I was there to commemorate the great sacrifices made by Australians and South Australians on that day, a century ago. Along with representatives from other states and His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Ret’d), I joined with dignitaries from other nations involved in the First World War. It was with an incredible privilege that I was given the opportunity to lay a wreath on behalf of the Government and people of South Australia.
Following the Commemoration Service, we were shown just how strong the French and Australian bond truly was. In honour of the 100th anniversary, the local council authority unveiled a statue of General Sir John Monash, as part of a project called “Commemorations in Perspective.” This project showcases four works of art created in the style. Which is a deliberate distortion of the image. There are four of these statutes, which honour the memory of those who were of great significance, involved in the Val de Somme, during in Great War.
“Commemorations in perspective” has been guided by the Mayor of Le Hamel, Mr Stephane Chevin. In his role as both the Mayor and the President of the local tourism office, he has guided the creation of this project. He regularly welcomes groups of travelling Australians into his village and from what I have been told, his wife is known throughout the region for making Anzac biscuits. A true representation of the lasting impact the Battle of Hamel has left on our two nations.
I wish to thank the Premier, The Hon Darren Chester MP – Federal Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Veterans SA for ensuring that South Australia was represented on this extremely significant and moving commemoration.