These words, emblazoned on banners and blackboards, are found in the French school at Villers-Bretonneux, a small village lying among green fields just south of the river Some.

This Anzac Day marks the centenary of a battle so bravely fought that one British officer called the victory at Villers-Bretonneux “perhaps the greatest individual feat” of World War I.

In March 1918, the Germans launched a major attack on the strategic town of Amiens. Moving westward, they captured Villers-Bretonneux on 23 April. Fearing that the war would be lost, the British high command assigned the task of retaking Villers-Bretonneux to two Australian brigades.

The do-or-die counter assault commenced at 10 pm on 24 April. One German officer later wrote that the Australians “were magnificent, nothing seemed to stop them. When our fire was heaviest, they just disappeared in shell holes and came up as soon as it slackened”.

As the sun rose on 25 April, exactly three years to the day of the Gallipoli landing, the Australians recaptured Villers-Bretonneux, marking out a new front line and the end of the German ascendancy on the Somme. But it came at a huge cost for Australia. 1200 died saving the village.

The French, though, have never forgotten the sacrifice. The Australian flag still flies over Villers-Bretonneux. A plaque outside the Town Hall tells the story of events in the town in 1918. Kangaroos feature over the entrance to the Town Hall. The main street is named Rue de Melbourne.

The children of Villers-Bretonneux are especially indebted to Australia. After the war, it was money donated from schoolchildren in Victoria that paid for the rebuilding of the village school. It was named Victoria School.  A brass plaque honours the “love and goodwill” between the two nations and remembers the 1,200 Australian soldiers “who gave their lives in the heroic recapture of this town”.

Emblazoned across a building in the main playground of Victoria School and above the schools blackboards are the words ‘DO NOT FORGET AUSTRALIA’. Aside from the poignant banner, carvings of kangaroos, koalas and platypuses decorate the school hall. One hundred years after the historic battle, the children of Villers-Bretonneux continue to learn about the soldiers from half a world away who liberated their town from the German enemy.

And just as the local children of Villers-Bretonneux are schooled in the sacrifice made by Australians, we Australians will never forget Villers-Bretonneux and the people of Villers-Bretonneux have never forgotten the Australians who helped them..

To mark the centenary of this act of bravery in battle, a new interpretive centre opened on Anzac Day. The Sir John Monash Centre, named after one of our most celebrated generals, is at the heart of the Australian Remembrance Trail connecting battlefield sites from Flanders to the Somme.

The new semi-subterranean building takes inspiration from the trenches that scarred the landscape around the Somme.


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One Comment

Belinda Dobson

My great grandfather John Alfred Heydon fought in that battle. Each surviving soldier was given a little pin that read ‘Ypres’ as a sign of gratitude.
Lest we forget.