Sir John Monash Centre: Villers-Bretonneux: Opened Anzac Day 2018
On high ground adjacent to the small French village of Villers-Bretonneux - and opened on Anzac Day 2018 - at the rear of the Villers-Bretonneux Australian WW1 War Memorial - is the brand new Sir John Monash Centre, a state-of-the-art visitors' gateway to the Western Front.
The centre - is in 2 words - quite incredible. Spirit of Remembrance took 200 of our passengers through this amazing centre on opening day - Anzac Day 2018, and the reaction was quite amazing.
SOR Photo Gallery: Public Opening Sir John Monash Centre: Anzac Day 2018
Sir John Monash Centre Link:
About Sir John Monash:
Sir John Monash began the war as a Colonel in command of a brigade – and ended the war as a knighted General and Commander of the entire Australian AIF – who was then charged with the demobilisation and repatriation of all the Australian troops back from Europe and Britain. 'Monash the man' – his character, personality, flaws, failings and civilian achievements - before and after the war - have been widely discussed and much has been written about this amazing man. However, no matter how much his own tumultuous personal life has been detailed and discussed - he is recognised as one of the finest military commanders of the war, if not the finest.
John Monash was a complex, brilliant individual. Born into a German Jewish family, young Monash excelled academically and at other pursuits like piano, chess, debating and socialising. He graduated with degrees in Engineering, Arts and Law. He became a man of means and mistresses with an amazing ability to multi-task and problem-solve. These traits led to his pre-war success as a civil engineer, his unique military strategies and success on the Western Front, and his post-war civilian achievements. Such was the respect, admiration and affection for Monash that his funeral in Melbourne attracted 300,000 mourners.
He mixed with some amazing people – both infamous and famous in his life - his mentors at Jerilderie Primary School and Melbourne's Scotch College, bushranger Ned Kelly, his wife Hannah (Vic), daughter Bertha, mistresses Annie Gabriel and Lizzie Bentwich, the bohemian friends who knew him as 'Jack', his business associates and fellow engineers like David Mitchell (father of Dame Nellie Melba), and his nemesis's - war correspondent Bean and newspaper magnate Murdoch - who did everything in their power to get rid of him.
This spectacularly backfired with Prime Minister Billy Hughes support for him, plus King George V's friendship – and of course – the men under his command who gave their all for him.
'General Sir John Monash' - Australia's famous and most loved General of WW1: 4 Minute Original WW1 Video: Sir John Monash at his French HQ: Chateau Bertangles
Monash: 'The Forgotten Anzac'
55 Minute video: The Forgotten Anzac: A superb doco-drama:
And now.. remembered forever with the new Sir John Monash Centre. The new centre is a high-quality building over three levels, partly sunk into the ground, located behind - yet consistent with the imposing Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux, 2km from the town of Villers-Bretonneux. The centre is the 'jewel in the crown' for the WW1 Australian Remembrance trail in France, and is the most enduring and graphic consequence of all the Australian 2014-18 World War I centenary events.
The project was conceived and implemented under ex Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot back in 2013. He recognised (when opposition leader in the run-up to the 2013 election) the then quite inadequate official plans for the Australian Great War centenary programs. He and his government decided that something more substantial was essential to focus on the Western Front where more than 46,000 Australians lost their lives.
In opposition Abbott committed to the project. In government he was quick to secure approval, funding, French government co-operation and implementation. It is widely acknowledged that even though today he remains an extremely divisive politician within Australia, this quite unique, 'state of the art' educational memorial centre has come into existence primarily because of the commitment of Abbott and his cabinet at the time of his prime ministership.
(*In retrospect - look back at 2012 and this newspaper article. It proved to be incredibly correct in hindsight - predicting the new SJM centre and the reasoning for it to be built:)
A Good Read from the Australian...The Australian newspaper says of this historic anniversary: "The 2018 Anzac Day commemoration at Villers-Bretonneux will witness probably the largest influx of Australians into France for a century. (Read the full article here)
While Gallipoli is the totally understandable location of our national preoccupation and birth of the Australian ANZAC legend, it is the Western Front where the toll of sacrifice dwarfed any comparison and where, during the battles of 1918, the Australian Imperial Force played a pivotal and decisive role in the final major encounters to end the war.
The on-site project managers were Caroline Bartlett and Wade Bartlett. The Australian company, Cox Architecture, carried out the design contract. The concept also involved the separate completion of the original design for the Australian National memorial as conceived by the great British architect Edwin Lutyens, who designed the Villers-Bretonneux memorial for Australia as well as the nearby British Thiepval monument on the Somme, the largest Commonwealth memorial in the world.
The excavation for the centre unearthed over 1200 war objects — shovels, helmets, water bottles — some of which are displayed in the new centre. The centre also contains individual galleries, a cafe and bookshop. The current access to the centre is via walking through the cemetery on to the foreground before the national monument with its high tower and take one of the pathways on either side to the visitors centre behind the monument.
Remembrance and RESPECT of our war dead - is now a modern tourism industry - inexorably tied to our family history roots, patriotism, our nation and our emotions. It is more powerful than ever, particularly on the WW1 Western Front. Its power is visceral; from the earth itself - and in the myriad small French villages and towns where the young Australians fought - and died in their thousands. Much of this land now 'belongs' forever to to Australia - if not by government commemorative purchase - then by blood, by respect, and by history. Australian flags dot the villages from Fromelles to Pozieres, from Albert to Villers-Bretonneux and Peronne - and throughout northern France.
Villers-Bretonneux, with its small population of about 3,500 is a quintessential French village - but is hardly chic or fashionable. It is already famous in Australia for its 'Victoria' school (and existing refurbished museum) and the legendary sign in the schoolyard, "Do Not Forget Australia". The new Sir John Monash centre will greatly increase tourism to the town, furthering our commemoration and remembrance of our WW1 diggers.
The new Sir John Monash Centre continues to garner criticism in Australia - predominately due to its cost and suitability given our support and care of our modern day diggers.
However. in closing - we say this. Spend a few days on the WW1 battlefields here in France and Belgium - visit the tens of thousands of silent gravestones - sentinel now - over the final resting places of the brave, bright (larrikin even..) young Aussie volunteers who flocked here for their great adventure - and died alongside their brothers and mates - in their tens of thousands - and whose legacy did indeed CHANGE THE WORLD - and gave us what we take for granted today. Liberty and Freedom. Then visit this pinnacle and the summation of this carnage from our past in the form of this new centre - and then go home and proudly say - I have been there.
Our Unknown Soldier: (interment speech) "He is all of them. And he is one of us"
Sir John Monash Centre: Villers-Bretonneux Australian War Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux, France