Former Cessnock resident Barry Wiseman shares his account of Anzac Day on the Western Front

Former Cessnock resident Barry Wiseman has lived in England for more than 50 years, and still proudly calls Australia home.

Mr Wiseman visited the former Western Front battlefields in France in April to take part in this year’s Anzac Day observances, and wrote to The Advertiser to share his experience.

France and Belgium accorded Australia incredible respect on Anzac Day this year and any Australian would have been proud to be there during this period.

Flags bearing the legend “Remember the Anzacs” hung in the streets of the towns fought over by the Anzacs.

It was the hundredth year since the Battle of Villers-Bretonneux, when the Germans, having broken through British defences in the town, were beaten back by the 13th and 15th Australian Brigades, with terrible loss of lives.

Witnesses said that the town was fought for inch by inch in street fighting, with the bayonet as the favoured weapon.

I'm sure there were more Australian and New Zealand flags flying there this week than even in Australasia.

Amiens city centre flew flags recognising the Anzac Day Centenary from most lamp posts and Australian servicemen and servicewomen toured various cemeteries and remembrance sites to share ceremonies with the local French and Belgian communities.

Research led me to the knowledge that it wasn’t just the liberation of their towns that made the French so grateful, it was the way the Diggers went through the towns, entering the houses, straightening pictures, resetting religious icons and putting children’s toys in the cellars to safely await the return of the families, before the soldiers returned to the horrors of the war.

This consideration endeared them to the locals and maybe isn’t as well-known as it should be.

Anzac Day began at midnight at the impressive Australian National Memorial, near Villers-Bretonneux.

More than 8000 people arrived on this cold night, sitting for hours to pay their respects.

HRH Charles, Prince of Wales, addressed us, as did Hon Malcolm Turnbull and Edouard Philippe, the Australian and French Prime Ministers.

LUMINARIES: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull addresses the Anzac Day dawn ceremony at the Australian National Memorial, near Villers-Bretonneux in France. Picture: Barry Wiseman

LUMINARIES: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull addresses the Anzac Day dawn ceremony at the Australian National Memorial, near Villers-Bretonneux in France. Picture: Barry Wiseman

Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and many other luminaries were also present.

Major General Mark Kelly, AO DSC was Master of Ceremonies and conducted it brilliantly.

The organisation by the French and Australians drew huge praise and the affection towards Australia was evidenced by the sincerity of the crowd, mostly French and British, but with plenty of Australians and New Zealanders.

In the days that followed, the Anzacs’ route during the war was walked by countless British and Australasians, passing through the memorials and remembering the thousands of young men who left their countries for a bit of an adventure and out of a sense of duty to their mother country.

Forty-six thousand never returned home, but they are truly honoured in immaculate war cemeteries a century later.

The Sir John Monash Centre was opened at the Australian National Memorial on this historic day. Half submerged in the ground, this state-of-the-art building houses huge multimedia displays, depicting the Anzacs and those left behind.

Tours of the wonderfully preserved Anzac Trail have never been easier and one should be on every Australian’s “to do” list.

For inspiration, just Google “Battlefield Tours” and set your sights, maybe on the 101st anniversary at the Australian National Memorial next year.

Don’t imagine that it will be a miserable experience.

It is emotional and my English wife cried when she watched portraits of young Anzacs projected onto the memorial tower, with their names and details of the places they died.

Despite that, she said that she wouldn’t have missed it for the world and that she will never forget it.

Me, too.

Everywhere we went that week, people said “Etes vous Anglais?”

Every time, I straightened a little, smiled and replied, “Non. Australienne”.

PROUD: Barry Wiseman at the Australian Corps Memorial Park, Le Hamel.

PROUD: Barry Wiseman at the Australian Corps Memorial Park, Le Hamel.

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