As parking on the streets was an issue, we left Arras right on 9 o’clock in the morning to avoid a costly fine, and headed south towards Amiens. The road took us through the Somme region. On both sides of the road we passed green fields, which I think were probably wheat, and yellow canola fields. It’s still sinking in that these terrible battles were fought on land which once was, and now is again, tranquil and calm, and which is very beautiful to behold.
Our first stop was at The Windmill, just outside Pozieres, where Australian troops achieved their first victory on the Western Front, just a few days after the slaughter at Fromelles. Sadly, Pozieres was even costlier, as the Anzacs battled to hold and secure the village. The fact that they did so gave Britain and her allies control of higher ground, and the impetus to attack and defeat the Germans at nearby Thiepval. WWI historian Charles Bean wrote that the Pozieres Ridge “is more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other place on earth.”
Just beyond the site where the windmill stood, the ground is marked with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of white wooden crosses, each with a knitted poppy. They are laid out in a fan shape, in what I believe is a representation of the rising sun of the AIF badge, though I could be wrong. It makes a striking statement on a green battlefield. Nearby is a small tribute to animals lost in war, and across the road is a memorial to all tanks and tank crews who served with the Allies on the Western Front. A little further down the road is the Australian First Division Memorial.
A short time later we entered Le Hamel, situated on the Somme River, and drove up to a ridge overlooking the quiet little village. This was the Australian Memorial Park, marking the place where Sir John Monash achieved his famous victory over the Germans in just 93 minutes in the dark early morning hours of July 4, 1918. Monash meticulously planned the attack, intending to take the Germans completely by surprise, and instructed his key men exactly what to do and when. He coordinated the heavy shelling of German positions with artillery with the advance of tanks and infantry soldiers and with planes flying overhead. In shorter time than predicted, Monash’s Australian Corps troops had taken back the village.
The battle tactics used by Monash were so successful that they became a model for future Allied attacks, and therefore played an important role in helping the British and Commonwealth troops win a number of decisive battles that effectively sealed the fate of the Germans and led to their defeat in November 1918.
It was at Le Hamel that the German air ace, Baron von Richthofen, the ‘Red Baron’ was shot down.