Principal, Miguel Quillent, teacher Evelyne Petijean and students from the College Jacques Brel, Villers Bretonneux, visited the La Perouse Headland today to pay their respects at Australia’s most important site celebrating the bond between our two nations. The visit to Australia was hosted by the Returned Services League and included a stopover at the twin city of Robinvale in Victoria. The citizens of Villers-Bretonneux (pop. 4135) raised over $20,000 to rebuild a school destroyed in the recent Victorian Bushfire tragedy. The French town launched the appeal in a campaign similar to the one which saw the citizens of Melbourne adopt Villers-Bretonneux to help rebuild the town after WW1. Link to photographs of Villers-Bretonneux 1918-1919(The Australian multimedia website)

The visit to La Perouse was hosted by the Mayor of Randwick City Council, Bruce Notley-Smith, and the Friends of the Laperouse Museum in association with the French Consul-General, Lionel Majeste-Larrouy and the NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change.

 

Photographs (L-R): Carole Roussel, guiding the group around the Museum; presentation of Pamela Griffith etching;In front of the Laperouse Monument with Mr and Mrs Baker (NSW RSL); in front of the Tapestry with the Mayor of Randwick and the French Consul-General and family.

The bond between Australia and France was established on Australia’s National Day January 26, 1788 when Captain John Hunter welcomed Laperouse, France’s most famous navigator, to Botany Bay. As Laperouse noted in his journal at the time “all Europeans are compatriots at such a great distance” and during the following 6 weeks there were at least another 11 occasions when French officers and scientists met with the British.

The French were the first to establish an Observatory, a Garden and to observe Christian services. On February 17th they buried their Franciscan Friar and Scientist, Receveur, who had succumbed to wounds received in Samoa. Governor Arthur Phillip on seeing the grave a few months later ordered that it be appropriately marked. Decades later, officers from one of the expeditions which had been searching for Laperouse, Duperrey, engraved the eucalyptus tree that shaded the grave. The following year Governor Thomas Brisbane granted Hyacinthe de Bougainville land for the purpose of building a monument to Laperouse and a Tomb for the French Friar. These were completed in 1828.

 

The gravesite is a humbling reminder of the supreme sacrifice that young Australian men would make on the Somme 90 years later – April 25 – three years after Anzac Day and also the anniversary of Friar Receveur’s birth.

A man’s destination is not his destiny,

Every country is home to one man

And exile to another. Where a man dies bravely

A one with his destiny, that soil is his. (T.S. Eliot)

The focus for commemoration of Australians lost on the Western Front is the small town of Villers-Bretonneux. The battle of Villers-Bretonneux on April 25, 1918 was a turning point in the war. In 1918, the Germans had advanced to within a short strike on Paris having captured towns like Villers-Bretonneux, a strategic rail site outside Amiens. Villers-Bretonneux was retaken after three days of battle, and at a cost of 2473 Australians dead (9529 British and 10,400 Germans – in 1918 the population of Australia was around 5million compared to the UK with more than 35million). On July 14 1919 the mayor unveiled a memorial and declared:

 

 

 

 

“The first inhabitants of Villers-Bretonneux to re-establish themselves in the ruins of what was once a flourishing little town have, by means of donations, shown a desire to thank the valorous Australian Armies, who with the spontaneous enthusiasm and characteristic dash of their race, in a few hours drove out an enemy ten times their number…They offer a memorial tablet, a gift which is but the least expression of their gratitude, compared with the brilliant feat which was accomplished by the sons of Australia…Soldiers of Australia, whose brothers lie here in French soil, be assured that your memory will always be kept alive, and that the burial places of your dead will always be respected and cared for…”
The Australian War Memorial in France is located in Villers-Bretonneux and records the names of nearly 11,000 Australians whose graves are unknown. In front of the memorial lie the graves of over 770 Australian soldiers, as well as those of other soldiers involved in the campaign. The school in Villers-Bretonneux was rebuilt with donations from Australia. Schoolchildren and their teachers helped the effort by asking for pennies, while the Victorian Department of Education contributed additional funds to the War Relief Fund. The school was appropriately renamed Victoria. The inauguration of the new school occurred ANZAC Day in 1927. N’oublions jamais l’Australie is inscribed in the school hall and wood carvings on the pillars in the hall depict Australian flora and fauna. Almost 180,000 Australian troops served on the Western Front, from Belgium through northern France. Around 52,000 of them died, and around 11,000 were never accounted for and their names are recorded at the memorial at Villers-Bretonneux. In 1975 a Museum was opened and last year, the town hosted close to 5000 visitors(more than the population) for the first dawn Anzac Day service on the Somme. (The cemetery at Villers-Bretonneux, taken from the War Memorial, 32 metres high.)College Jacques Brel, situated on Rue de Verdon, is a middle school catering for students from Years 6 to 9 (senior students go to a separate school in Amiens) and younger students attend the primary schools of Victoria and St.Exuprey or The Little Prince Nursery Schools.



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