Australia did not enter the First World War in Europe until 1916, however, thousands of Australians are expected this year to commemorate the outbreak of the conflict.
Fromelles Military Cemetery is the only Australian cemetery on the Western Front and it was built by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission after the Armistice. 410 Australian servicemen who gave their lives in the battle of Fromelles, in July 1916, are buried there.
According to Delphine Bartier, from the northern France tourism department, over one million people are expected to visit the Western Front to mark the First World War centenary, with most of them being Australians. A museum depicting Australia’s campaign in Fromelles will also be open in April this year. Ms Bartier said that with such a large number of casualties in France during the First World War, many people now want to pay tribute for that sacrifice and to honor all those who died during this particular campaign. Australians had to endure the worst day in Australian military history during the battle of Fromelles and the interest to visit these sites has been growing, especially since the bodies of so many Australian soldiers were found on the battlefield.
In 2007, a farmer discovered an unmarked cemetery, more like a mass grave, from which the remains of 250 soldiers were exhumed in 2009. Next to the Pheasants Wood cemetery is where the Fromelles museum was built.
The Department of Veterans Affairs and authorities in France and Belgium have invested $10 million in a stream of detailed information boards, monuments and memorials based on Australia’s campaign in Europe, in the First World War, including a 8.5km walking trail to mark the place where Australia fought in the battle of Fromelles.
According to the Australian Embassy in Paris, it is not clear just yet how many people will travel to France and Belgium to attend the commemoration but numbers have been increasing and with all the publicity of the 100th mark, visitors are expected to take over the sites, the News.com.au reports.
“There will be a lot going on and we are expecting some bigger numbers coming out this way,” said a source.
3000 visitors attended the opening of an Australian museum in Bullecourte last year, with another 12,500 visiting the Somme village of Villers-Bretonneux, where 1200 Australians lost their lives.
Commonwealth’s Tyn Cot Cemetery in Belgium received 300,000 people last year. The renovations on the cemetery are expected to be completed in March, 2014.