Commemorating South Australia’s WWI sacrifice in France

The 100th anniversary of South Australia’s WWI loss and sacrifice on the French battlefields will be commemorated by Veterans’ Affairs Minister Martin Hamilton-Smith, who is in France as part of an official Defence Industries and Trade and Investment visit to France and the United Kingdom.

Minister Hamilton-Smith will attend the Bastille Day Parade on July 14 where the colours of the Royal South Australian Regiment will take part in the traditional Parade along the Champs-Elysees. This year, at the invitation of the French Government, the parade will be led by approximately 160 members of the Australian Defence Force, including South Australian members in honour of the contribution of Australian forces during the Battle of the Somme in July 1916.

As part of these commemorations, the Minister will also attend the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ypres on July 18. The following day he will commemorate the 100thanniversary of the Battle of Fromelles by visiting the Fromelles battlefields and attending commemorative services at the Pheasant Wood Military Cemetery and the VC Corner Australian Cemetery and Memorial.

Background

Australian forces played a major role in liberating French and Belgian communities in World War I and as such, there is ongoing gratitude among these communities for Australia’s service and sacrifice. More than 295,000 Australians served in the Australian Imperial Forces in this theatre of war. Of these, 46,000 were killed and 132,000 wounded.

From the introduction of trench warfare and technologically-advanced weaponry, to the use of chemical warfare, the Western Front was a ‘manmade hell on earth’.

The Australian War Memorial describes the Battle of Fromelles, which took place in northern France on 19 and 20 July, 1916 as ‘the worst 24 hours in Australia’s history’ in which 5533 Australian soldiers were killed, wounded or taken prisoner. Approximately 130 of those killed in this 24 hour period were South Australians.

Quotes attributable to Veterans' Affairs Minister Martin Hamilton-Smith

For many Australians, the Western Front really is a sacred place. Being part of these important events marking the centenary of battles fought 100 years ago will be incredibly moving and is a great honour.

The fact that Australia was asked to lead the Bastille Day celebrations on July 14 in this centenary year is also testimony to the great and lasting friendships that exist between our nations dating back to 1916.

To this day Australians are warmly welcomed in those sacred places, where the fiercest battles were fought and where thousands of lives were lost. Here, there are beautifully cared for cemeteries, their keepers dedicated to ensuring those who are buried in foreign lands, alongside their own countrymen, are not forgotten.

This historic period was a momentous time when South Australians from all backgrounds fought and died in the Great War.