Bullecourt, Fromelles, Pozières, Villers-Brettoneux - the names of these towns, on the other side of our world, are etched into Australia’s national consciousness.
They are sacred places, the earth stained with Australian blood.
Each year, on Anzac Day, we remember the sacrifice of the tens of thousands of men who lost their lives here - to protect France and to defend the ideals of freedom and liberty that our two nations share.
And so today we gather at Bullecourt – to reflect, to remember, and to resolve that the world should never again witness the horror that unfolded at this place 97 years ago.
The first battle of Bullecourt, in April 1917, was a hastily planned operation, designed to breach the Hindenburg Line.
The assault was led by tanks, and the attacking troops were to take enemy trenches but without the protection of artillery bombardment.
Australian Lieutenant T.J. Richards described the fighting here as “the gaping jaws of hell.”
But amidst the carnage, some units of the 4th Australian Division accomplished the seemingly impossible.
For a time, they broke into the Hindenburg Line – something the famous Australian war journalist and historian Charles Bean referred to as a “previously unbelievable feat”.
Today we remember their bravery – and we remember those who lost their lives.
For on that day, some three thousand Australians were killed or wounded, with more than one thousand taken prisoner – more than during any other action in the war.
Charles Bean described how the Australians were the last to leave.
“At 12.25, a full hour after the other troops – with proud deliberation, under heavy fire, picking its way calmly through the wire, helping the walking wounded, its officers bringing up the rear, the 48th battalion came out.”
Despite the failure and the bloodshed, British commanders were determined to try again.
The second battle of Bullecourt lasted two weeks, and saw some of the most intense trench fighting of the war.
This cost seven thousand more Australian casualties.
So every year on the 25th of April, Anzac Day, we remember them.
We remember those who sustained terrible injuries of body and mind; those who returned home – but whose lives were scarred forever by war.
They will never be forgotten.
Not by Australia, and not by France.
Together, we are the custodians of their legacy.
The memorials of the Western Front, the Jean and Denise Letaille Museum here in Bullecourt, are reminders of what we know to be true – that France will always remember the Diggers in slouch hats who gave their lives here.
Our nations are forever joined, by the terrible events of nearly a century ago, but also by our shared values and ideals for which our soldiers fought and died.
Thousands of young Australian men lie forever buried in French soil.
But we know they lie in the care of friends.
Lest we forget.
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