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New shrine to WWI Diggers may soon rival Gallipoli

July 21, 2014 Destination Global, Headline News No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59Australia’s brave soldiers who fought in the First World War have a new shrine, with the opening of the Musée de la Bataille de Fromelles (Museum of the Battle of Fromelles) in France. The new museum is likely to become a very big attraction for Australians visiting Europe.

Fromelles, the first major battle fought by Australians on the Western Front in World War I, remains the darkest day in Australia’s military history. In less than 24 hours in 1916, Australia suffered more than 5500 casualties, with almost 2000 killed in action or dying as a result of their wounds and some 400 taken prisoner. The news hit Australia hard when it reached home.

Australia’s Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC, Senator Michael Ronaldson, believes the memorial at Fromelles could come to rival Gallipoli in attracting Australians. Australians are greeted warmly in Fromelles to this day.

Members of the Australian 53rd Battalion. Of the men pictured, only three survived the battle, all wounded.

“As a nation we are focused on Gallipoli in 2015, but then the focus will shift to the Western Front,” Ronaldson said.

“I believe there will be hundreds of thousands of Australians who make the pilgrimage to the Western Front and to the Somme as they have to Gallipoli.”

Paying tribute to Australians who fought in the 1916 Battle of Fromelles, Ronaldson said he was pleased that the Australian Government had been able to contribute more than AUD 1 million to construct the new Musée de la Bataille de Fromelles.

“The Museum will help ensure the story of Australian service and sacrifice in this bloody battle will never be forgotten. The new museum will share this extraordinary Australian story with an international audience as well as the growing number of Australians who make the pilgrimage to the battlefields of the Western Front,” Ronaldson said.

The Battle of Fromelles Museum tells the story of the bloodiest 24 hours in Australian military history. Fromelles was subsidiary to the Battle of the Somme, which ran up total casualties of 1.22 million, making it one of the worst battles, in terms of loss of life, in world history.

The museum also tells the story of the recovery of the remains of 250 Australian and British First World War soldiers from a mass grave at Pheasant Wood, near Fromelles. The remains of these men, who died in 1916, were exhumed and reburied with military honours at the Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery in 2010.

Fromelles is one of 12 key sites on the Australian Remembrance Trail along the Western Front. The Trail is a AUD 10 million Australian Government initiative, in partnerships with French and Belgian authorities, comprising walking trails, museums, battlefields, memorials, and cemeteries.

All of these sites can now be explored online through the new interactive features of the Australian Remembrance Trail Virtual Visitors Centre at www.ww1westernfront.gov.au.

“The extraordinary experience of our soldiers on the Western Front deserves to be better known. For Australians able to travel, I recommend visiting the sites along the Australian Remembrance Trail in France and Belgium. For those unable to travel, the Virtual Visitors Centre provides an outstanding opportunity, from the comfort of home, to immerse yourself in the rich historical information and resources it contains,” Ronaldson said.

The Battle of Fromelles was conducted by XI Corps of the First Army [British] with the 61st Division and the 5th Australian Division, Australian Imperial Force (AIF) against the 6th Bavarian Reserve Division, supported by two flanking divisions of the German Sixth Army.

Written by Peter Needham

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