Australian National Memorial – Villers‑Bretonneux, France

The Australian National Memorial, Villers–Bretonneux is the main memorial to Australian military personnel killed on the Western Front during World War I. It is located on the Route Villers-Bretonneux (D 23), between the towns of Fouilloy and Villers-Bretonneux, in the Somme département, France. The memorial lists 10,773 names of soldiers of the Australian Imperial Force with no known grave who were killed between 1916, when Australian forces arrived in France and Belgium, and the end of the war. The location was chosen to commemorate the role played by Australian soldiers in the Second Battle of Villers-Bretonneux (24–27 April 1918).

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Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, the memorial consists of a tower within the Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery, which also includes a Cross of Sacrifice. The tower is surrounded by walls and panels on which the names of the missing dead are listed. The main inscription is in both French and English, on either side of the entrance to the tower. The memorial and cemetery are maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

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Construction of the memorial took place in 1936 and 1937. It was unveiled on 22 July 1938 by King George VI, whose words were broadcast directly to Australia. Other dignitaries present included the French President Albert Lebrun, who also gave a speech, and the Australian deputy prime minister Earle Page. Accompanying the King was his wife Queen Elizabeth, whose brother was killed at the Battle of Loos. This memorial was the last of the great memorials to the missing of World War I to be built, and the Second World War broke out just over a year after its unveiling.[2] During the unveiling ceremony, the King closed his speech with the words: « They rest in peace, while over them all Australia’s tower keeps watch and ward. »[2]
Every year on 25 April, an Anzac Day Dawn Service is conducted at the memorial by the Australian Government Department of Veterans’ Affairs. The service commences at 5.30am and is followed by community services in Villers-Bretonneux and Bullecourt.

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On 22 July 1938, Queen Elizabeth laid a bunch of poppies, given to her by a local schoolboy, at the unveiling of the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux. Was she thinking of her own brother, Fergus Bowes-Lyon, ‘missing’ at the Battle of Loos in 1915? Around the walls of the Memorial were the names of some 11,000 Australians ‘missing’ in action in France. On the night of 24–25 April 1918, Australian soldiers recaptured Villers-Bretonneux from the Germans, a battle also remembered in the Franco-Australian museum at the Victoria school in the town. In the playground is a sign: ‘Do Not Forget Australia’.

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