After Gallipoli, most of the Australians arrived on the Western Front, where they suffered great losses. The Western Front remains a place of special significance to many Australians.
In addition to the annual Anzac Day Dawn Service a number of services will be held in France and Belgium from 2016 to 2018, to mark the 100th anniversaries of significant battles involving Australians.
In France in 2016, commemorative services will be held to mark two significant battles – the Battle of Fromelles on 19 July 1916 and the Battle of Pozières that began on 23 July 1916.
On 26 September 2017, a service will be held at the Buttes New British Cemetery in Belgium to commemorate all Australians who served in Belgium during the First World War, particularly in the Battle of Messines and the Third Battle of Ypres, known also as Passchendaele.
In 2018, services will be conducted to commemorate the service of Australians on the Western Front in 1918, focusing on Villers-Bretonneux, the site of the Australian National Memorial in France, and at nearby Le Hamel.
Battle of Fromelles
The Battle of Fromelles was the Australian Imperial Force’s (AIF’s) first major action on the Western Front during the First World War. On 19 July 1916, in less than 24 hours, the AIF’s 5th Division suffered more than 5,500 casualties, with almost 2,000 killed in action or dying as a result of their wounds, and some 400 captured.
The attack was a feint, designed to keep German reserves in the Fromelles area from moving south to take part in the Somme fighting. On the morning of 19 July, Allied artillery began bombarding the strongly fortified German lines but failed to destroy key targets. Australian and British forces were subjected to heavy enemy fire as they crossed no man’s land.
Battle of Pozières
The 1st Australian Division’s first major action on the Western Front was an assault on German positions in the village of Pozières. On 23 July 1916, the Division captured German positions in the village, including a strongpoint which became known as the Gibraltar Blockhouse.
The Division held their positions through three days of intense German bombardment and counterattacks. By the time it was relieved on 27 July 1916, the Division had lost some 5,285 men killed, wounded or missing. The 2nd and 4th Divisions also fought at Pozières, and after six weeks the Australians had suffered some 23,000 casualties.
Third Battle of Ypres
The major British offensive in Flanders in 1917, the Third Battle of Ypres aimed to break down the strongly fortified German defensive positions in front of Ypres. The offensive aimed to break through the German lines, enabling Allied forces to reach the German submarine bases on the Belgian coast. The offensive comprised a series of costly battles, including the Battle of Polygon Wood which involved the 4th and 5th Australian Divisions.
The Battle of Le Hamel, took place on 4 July 1918, and is renowned for the Australians, along with some United States troops, having taken their objectives in just 93 minutes. Le Hamel is often considered to have been a model Western Front battle and was a further step in the development of tactics that ultimately led to the Allied victory.
On 11 November at 11am the Armistice that ended the fighting came into effect. The peace was greeted with celebrations in the Allied countries, but relief was mingled with sorrow at the loss of so many lives. The occasion is marked by a minute’s silence at 11am, on what is now known as Remembrance Day.
Commemorative Services on the Western Front during the Anzac Centenary period