Personal stories of endurance, tragedy, humour and mateship have been gathered into a program to commemorate the centenary of Australia’s loss and triumph in battles fought on the Western Front 100 years ago.
Tokens, artefacts, letters, writings, music and art are among the keepsakes and historical treasures that make up the Flanders Fields Poppy Trail, a multi-faceted program of cultural events presented throughout June, July and August, being launched at Parliament House tonight by the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Martin Hamilton-Smith.
A truly collaborative and international project, the Poppy Trail was devised by the Honorary French and Belgian Consuls in Adelaide, led by a consortium that includes South Australia’s iconic cultural and educational institutions, corporate and community partners, with support from Veterans SA, and the Anzac Day Commemorative Council.
The program is designed to be viewed as a walkable series of events, commencing at the Anzac Centenary Memorial Walk and concluding at the University of Adelaide. Viewers are introduced to different aspects of World War I; both the humanity and hardships experienced by the soldiers at the front line, as well as by their families at home.
The program runs until August 30 and features more than 15 separate events including two concerts, three lectures, four film screenings and six major exhibitions. The majority of events are free and take place in venues along North Terrace, including Artlab, State Library of South Australia, South Australian Museum, Art Gallery and University of Adelaide.
The project highlights the contribution Australian forces made to liberating French and Belgian communities in World War I and to the ongoing gratitude these communities have for Australia’s service and sacrifice made a century ago. 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’ and those who survived became the ‘silent generation.’
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. Pozieres saw the next round of significant battles involving South Australians. Here there were more than 23,000 Australian casualties in six weeks, including more than 700 South Australians killed in action.
Quotes attributable to Veterans’ Affairs Minister Martin Hamilton-Smith
It’s a credit to the organisers that a program of events on this scale has been put together to mark the centenary of battles fought on the Somme 100 years ago. It’s also testimony to the great and lasting friendships that exist between our three nations.
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.
South Australians are encouraged to explore the Flanders Fields Poppy Trail program and discover the personal stories of the Australians and South Australians who gave their all 100 years ago on these foreign battlefields. It’s a deeply moving program that tells the stories of those at war, those who cared for them and the ones left at home.
Quotes attributable to Flanders Field Poppy Trail consortium head and Consul Honoraire de France Mme Sue Crafter
This historic period was a momentous time when South Australians from all backgrounds fought and died in the Great War. Through this project, South Australians of all ages will come to appreciate the foundations of the relationship between Australia France and Belgium, by gaining a deeper understanding of the historical bonds and the intensity of the shared experiences. The project was the brainchild of Dr Christine Rothauser, former Honorary French Consul.
Quotes attributable to Christophe de Nijs, First Secretary, Political and Economic Affairs
The Great War will forever be a defining moment in the world’s history. This was indeed the opening act of a very murderous century in Europe, one that scarred my country forever. Belgium is very proud to support the Flanders Fields Poppy Trail as these kinds of commemorating and informative events are essential to help Australians and Belgians rediscover and reconnect with our shared history, a history that would otherwise be at risk of being lost and that should be passed on to younger generations. On behalf of the Kingdom of Belgium, I wish this series of events a brilliant success and commend all its stakeholders for taking this great initiative.
Quotes attributable to Australian War Memorial Director Dr Brendan Nelson AO
Witness to it all, including 46,000 Australian dead in France and Belgium, official First World War historian Charles Bean was asked by a mortally wounded Australian, ‘will they remember me in Australia?’
We do. With immense pride we remember a generation at home and at war on the battlefields of France and Belgium who gave our nation its story. Their legacy is knowing that a life of value is one spent in the service of others. The Flanders Fields Poppy Trail is one of meaning and understanding of who we are.
Flanders Fields Poppy Trail Highlights
- Artlab Australia – Keepsakes and Stories: Conserving Mementos from WW1 – a rare and unique collection of artefacts with stories about the keepsakes written by the owners of the items on display. For example: ‘Dear Sis’ – a deeply moving letter from Private Edmund Charles Mortimer to his wife with a page for his sister; British Map – found in a market in India in March 2016, showing the advancement of the Allies in the last six months of the war until Armistice Day; Mascot – ‘Joey’ belonged to Captain Elliot Frederick (Tab) Pflaum assigned to the new Australian Squadron, the 4th Squadron AFC, flown in France during the war. Joey, made from leather and stuffed with horse-hair, sat on top of the petrol cap; Fums Up – a WWI mascot often given to soldiers for good luck.
- Art Gallery of South Australia – Between the lines: Australian artists and war – draws from the Gallery’s collection of paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs and decorative arts to explore the experiences of war on the battle front and at home. The display looks at the many ‘lines’ of battle experienced during the First World War by Australian artists including Hans Heysen, Frank Hurley, Hilda Rix Nicholas and Arthur Streeton.
- State Opera of South Australia – Songs from Behind the Front – Saturday, July 9.
- South Australian Museum – Aboriginal Anzacs – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have fought alongside other Australians in every war, but their presence and contribution has not been acknowledged until recently. This exhibition contrasts the war front and the home front.; it follows a few soldiers during and after war to give insight into them as people not just soldiers. The most moving story is about an Aboriginal soldier who became a POW and who made friends with a Jewish German soldier, a friendship maintained long after the war in letters. The German soldier’s daughter has provided material for the exhibition. It includes the German knife the Australian soldier exchanged for cigarettes, as well as some of their letters.
One of the most remarkable South Australian stories of coincidence and tragedy connected to the battle at Fromelles is that of the Choat family of Clarence Park. Three sons, with consecutive service numbers 66, 67 and 68 were all serving in A Company of the 32nd Battalion. The family was notified that all three were listed as Missing or Killed in Action at Fromelles. Some weeks later it emerged that the second son, Wesley Paul Choat had survived, but was taken prisoner. After an initial, unsuccessful first attempt, Wesley managed to escape from captivity making it to Holland and then on to England. After being awarded a Military Medal, he was repatriated to Australia.
For more information visit anzaccentenary.sa.gov.au/2016/04/on-flanders-fields-poppy-trail-project/