- Whilst the Dawn Service at Gallipoli is famous the world over with both Australians and New Zealanders as the most revered of the overseas Anzac Day ceremonies, the ceremony at Villers-Bretonneux, first initiated in 1998 has rapidly gained ground now as "the" ceremony to attend if you are in Europe or the UK. On Anzac Day, 25 April 2018 it is was the centenary of the famous second battle of Villers-Bretonneux where the Australians turned the tide of the war forever.
Spirit of Remembrance is the leading ANZAC tour operator for ANZAC commemorations in Europe with our passengers from Australia, NZ, the UK and Europe - and has operated tours to all ANZAC remembrance events in Europe since 2011 - with our annual Anzac Day & *Armistice (*2018 only) Value & Deluxe Quality Tours regarded as some of the best tours available to this/these historic Anzac events.(*Join us for 2019 Anzac Day at Villers-Bretonneux - we are now taking bookings!)
The new Sir John Monash Centre Villers-Bretonneux: Our Opening Day Picture Library!
Villers-Bretonneux is famous as the area where the Germans nearly broke through the Allied defences during the great German spring offensive of 1918. The German High Command worked out that if they captured Amiens, the major city of the Somme then push quickly to the coast they would split the Allied Forces in half and win the war - or at least sue for peace on their terms. Their first major offensive had actually reached to within ten miles of Amiens, before being stopped in the first battle of Villers-Bretonneux.
During the Second Battle of Villers-Bretonneux when the Australian 13th and 15th Brigades took the town back from the Germans on the 24th/*25th April (*Anzac Day), Brigadier General Grogan VC, who watched the attack described the successful Australian counter attack by night at short notice across unknown and difficult ground as "perhaps the greatest individual feat of the war". The Allied Supreme Commander, Marshal Foch, referred to the "altogether astonishing valiance" (valour) of the Australians.
Warning! The Anzac Day Villers-Bretonneux service is now incredibly popular and accommodation and transport in the area at this time is stretched to the maximum. If you are contemplating 'doing it yourself' please contact us for helpful hints and assistance as we have the local knowledge, connections AND the buying power to help you.
ABOUT THE SECOND BATTLE OF VILLERS-BRETONNEUX
The second battle of Villers-Bretonneux (24-25th April) came during the period of the battle of Lys, but was launched further south to try to overun the British lines outside Amiens (held by the 8th Division).The German attack was preceded by a vicious artillery bombardment, with both mustard gas and high explosive shells. The 8th Division was decimated and a three mile wide gap was opened in the British lines, and Villers-Bretonneux fell to the Germans, and their way to Amiens was open. (The town is also famous as the site of the world's first battle between two tank forces: three British Mark IVs against three German A7Vs on the 24th April.)
On the night of 24-25 April a night attack was launched (The Australian Brigadier Glasgow resisted the English High Command plans to attack at 8pm as it was still light and would involve terrible casualties, insisting it had to be dark for the attack which then started at 10pm). The attack involved two Australian brigades: the 15th (under Brigadier ('Pompey') Elliot (which had been previously decimated at Fromelles) and the 13th (under Brigadier Glasgow).
The Australian attack was in the form of a pincer movement, the 15th attacking to the north (left) and the 13th to the south (right) of the town, with the British attacking direct. Although it was feared the Australian attack would be a disaster because it was to be carried out in total darkness, it was an amazing victory resulting in a complete rout of the German forces, however at a heavy cost with the Australians suffering over 1200 killed and a total of 1,455 casualties during the battle. The British also took heavy casualties as their frontal attack route was anticipated by the enemy.
Charles Bean, the official Australian War Correspondent described the men of the 15th Brigade leaping forward with a "raw spontaneous roar" in savage encounters where "the restraints of civilised intercourse" were abandoned with the bayonet fighting reaching a pitch of ferocity rarely seen even on the Western Front. Men said "they had not had such a feast with their bayonets before".
Here's another quote from Bean of a sergeants account of the battle: "With a ferocious roar and the cry of "into the bastards, boys" we were down on them before the Boche realized what had happened… The Boche was at our mercy. They screamed for mercy but there were too many machine-guns about to show them any consideration"…
By dawn the entire German line had been forced back with their troops in Villers-Bretonneux cut off. After some of the most vicious 'hand to hand - no quarter given' fighting ever seen, the village was back in Allied hands at the end of the day and the town was never taken again by the Germans. Below is a spine tingling eyewitness account of the Aussie charge to retake the town.
Jimmy Downing, author of 'To the Last Ridge' ( a superb read) was there as his battalion (the 57th - with the 15th Brigade) moved into position. (* Interestingly enough Downing became Brigadier ('Pompey') Elliot's legal partner after the war, but Elliot committed suicide in 1931 due in no small measure to the war and in particular the Australian bloodbath at Fromelles which he was powerless to prevent from happening.)
'The moon sank behind clouds. There were houses burning in the town, throwing a sinister light on the scene. It was past midnight. Men muttered, "it's Anzac Day", smiling to each other, enlivened by the omen.'
Soon after the battle was engaged Downing describes the charge by Pompeys 15th Brigade:
"A snarl came from the throat of the mob, the fierce, low growl of tigers scenting blood. There was a howling as of demons as the 57th (battalion), fighting mad, drove through the wire, through the 59th, who sprang to their sides through their enemy. The yelling rose high and passed to the 58th and 60th, who were in another mob on the left. Baying like hell hounds, they also charged. The wild cry rose to a voluminous, vengeful roar that was heard by the 13th Brigade on the right of Villers-Bretonneux."
Here's an incredibly moving, wonderful and topical article on 'Pompey' Elliot and his leadership. A must read!
Another superb recent article (9 April 2018) on Pompey Elliot is here on our Facebook feed.
Here's Sir John Monash's account of the 2nd battle of Viller-Bretonneux.
It is HIGHLY significant that even with the desperate fighting that Australians were involved in at famous actions such as Fromelles, Le Hamel, Pozieres, Bullecourt, Mont St Quentin and many other areas along the Western Front, the principal Australian Memorial for WW1 in France & Belgium is at Villers-Bretonneux. The size and sheer gravitas of the Memorial is quite incredible. Carved into the walls below the 32m tower which totally dominates the surrounding area are the names of over 11,000 Australian soldiers who have no known grave in France.
Ex Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot when announcing the building of the new Sir John Monash centre in 2013 said; "About 290,000 Australians fought on the Western Front, ten per cent of the total Allied forces. The story of Gallipoli is very well known indeed, but the story of Australia on the Western Front should be much better known and that's what the Monash centre will be all about."
"It is impossible for those who did not serve to imagine that the carnage here was great and the conflict terrible."
Visit our photo gallery for our 2013 Villers-Bretonneux Anzac Day tour
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More on Villers-Bretonneux Our Villers-Bretonneux Anzac Day Tours
Other ways to get to get to Villers-Bretonneux Anzac Day Memorial Service: If you cannot utilise our tours to the Villers-Bretonneux Anzac Day Memorial Service on Anzac Day itself, the best suggestion is to drive to the service from where you are staying in France (or if staying in Paris - take the high speed train from Paris to nearby Amiens (*you will need an overnight stay in Amiens due to train times) then take a shuttle from Amiens to Glisy (for the Park n Ride DVA shuttle coach staging area) to the Villers-Brettoneux Memorial for the service.
Note the roads are ALL closed to the memorial from 2.30pm on the 24th and do not open until 2.30 pm on the 25th. The memorial is reached via a 2 kilometre walk up a small hill to where it is located on the D23 road on top of the hill - equidistance (2 kilometres) from either village. Note that the walk is not for very small children or anyone with walking difficulties as it is a little steep. Note the current Google Map link for the Villers-Bretonneux memorial is rather outdated being from 2011. The memorial since then has been vastly upgraded in 2014-16 with the road widened out the front of the memorial, vehicle parking bays out front, and large waiting areas for coach passengers. * Here's an updated image of the site:
ANZAC Day Villers-Bretonneux 2018 marked the 100 year anniversary of the battle of Villers-Brettoneux itself, a crucial battle that was the pivotal to the turning point of the war. The Anzac Day ceremony for the 100 year anniversary of the battle of Villers-Bretonneux was be one of the most defining remembrance events in Australian history in our time, and for the participants a 'once in a life- tIme' experience.
Villers-Bretonneux Self-Drive Option: Australian Remembrance Trail
Another really great option (that could include the Villers-Bretonneux Anzac Day ceremony) is to do a "self-drive" tour along the amazing new Australian Remembrance Trail covering the whole Australian sector of the Western Front. This 200 kilometre trail covers 12 separate areas/sites and follows the Australian involvement and battles along the Western Front, starting near Ypres in Belgium and finishing near Bellenglise / St. Quentin in France (or vice versa). We would be happy to help you with a tailor made package quote for your self drive itinerary taking in each point of the Remembrance Trail plus rental car cost and accommodation. More Details:
New! We have joined up with one of the most exciting discoveries yet for our WW1 heroes - a treasure trove of letters from two brothers who served on the Western Front in WW1 called "Just a few Lines". Sadly, one brother was killed in the dreadful Battle of Fromelles. His surviving brother Frank gives an incredibly laconic first hand account of the Battle of Villers-Bretonneux from this amazing letter collection. It's a must read!
If you are planning a longer tour, already much of the accommodation on the Western Front is heavily booked for Spring/Summer ever year and now even for 2019, so it is essential that if you are contemplating a trip to the Aussie Western Front sectors in this period that you start your planning without delay. Contact us. We are the experts.