It was in the defence of Amiens on March 26, 1918 the British were in a state of rout when German troops fell on the British force and overwhelmed it within hours.
Newly appointed General of the Australian third division, General Monash was sent to Montigny where the British High Command were glad to see him. While Monash was being briefed on the tactical situation, Australian soldiers were already moving to the front line. The refugees, going in the opposite direction of the battle, sighted the Australians and all at once their confidence grew and they began to unload their carts or return home. One villager told the advancing Australians, “You will hold them.”
Monash spent most of the night telephoning his orders and organising transport for his troops. One of the retreating British soldiers shouted to the Australian soldiers who were climbing onto buses, “You’re going the wrong way Digger!”
The second, third and fifth divisions were now taking up positions in the vicinity of Villers-Bretonneux, a name which reverberates far into present time. Villers-Bretonneux still observes Anzac Day each year with a salute to the Australian flag and laying of wreaths at the Great Australian Cemetery. The town’s schoolrooms bear the simple message on the wall, “N’oubliez jamais l’Australie,” (Never forget Australia).
Stories and poems have been written about “the war to end all wars”, but the battlefields saw not one of glamour, heroics and manly pride, it was butchery where rivers of blood destroyed the romance of battle. Australians were by nature peace loving. They were mistakenly thought by the British standards as undisciplined and lacking the fortitude in battle; the British were yet to discover their estimation was wrong.
By the end of 1918, the standing of the Aussie soldier, airman and sailor was of high praise. For a country with less than 5 million people, they were seen to be 'punching above their weight’ and were the only country to not introduce conscription. They were all volunteers. We salute those men and women who did their duty so bravely so long ago.
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