Rendez-vous at National Australian Memorial
Like other countries of the British Empire, Australia immediately came to the support of the "mother country" at the outbreak of war in August 1914. Together with their neighbours, the New Zealanders, they created the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC).
Their first offensive was at Gallipoli in Turkey on 25th April 1915. Their first action on the Somme took place on 23rd July 1916 at Pozières and later in April 1918 at Villers-Bretonneux. This was a very significant battle for the Australian troops who stopped the German push at Villers-Bretonneux over 24th, 25th and 26th April, before Amiens could be captured.
Designed by the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens and inaugurated on 22nd July 1938 by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, this imposing memorial was the last of the Great War national memorials of the British Empire and Commonwealth to be built in France or Belgium. The white stone memorial is composed of a central high tower and two corner pavilions linked to the tower by plain walls that bear the names of the 11,000 missing Australian soldiers who died in France. In front of the memorial is a Commonwealth War Cemetery.
From the top of the tower, panoramic views of the Somme countryside that the Australian troops helped to defend in 1918 can be seen. A circular orientation table shows the directions of other Australian battlefields on the Western Front and the direction of the Australian capital, Canberra.
At the bottom of the steps that lead to the top of the tower, a large wall-plaque displays a map of the Western Front and the emplacement of the five Australian divisional memorials in France and Belgium: 1st Division at Pozières, 2nd Division at Mont St-Quentin, 3rd Division at Sailly-le-Sec, 4th Division at Bellenglise and the 5th Division at Polygon Wood in Belgium.
The Anzac Day Dawn Service is held every 25th April at 5:30am at the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux, and is a moment of intense emotion. The ceremony pays homage to the men who fought and gave their lives during the war, particularly in this area. Each year, the Somme Tourist Board organise shuttle buses for the ceremony, leaving from Amiens station. Bookings can be made online at www.anzac-france.com from the month of December.