For the past five years the Royal Over-Seas League has travelled from the fields of France and Belgium, to Gallipoli, in a series of tours to commemorate the centenary of the First World War. This year, we concluded our series by focusing on the battles of 1918 between St Quentin and Amiens which eventually lead to the November Armistice.
To start our tour, we made a series of visits to cemeteries where some of our members had relatives buried. This is a part of our visits that we really enjoy doing as it gives members the chance to pay their respects , which they might otherwise have been unable to do on their own. It also meant the group were able to hear stories of loved ones fighting in the battles and understand the real impact of the war on those back home.
On Saturday, our tour focused on the German Spring Offensive, Operation Michael, and the Kaiserschlacht, between 21 March and 25 April. Our first stop was Manchester Hill, where Lt Col Wilfrith Elstob won a posthumous VC for his bravery and self-sacrifice. He single-handedly repulsed one bombing assault and made several journeys under severe fire to replenish his troops supply of ammunition. He unfortunately died when the enemy forces surrounded the Manchester Regiment, and when asked to surrender he refused, maintaining his belief that the Regiment should defend Manchester Hill to the last. This was also near to where Wilfred Owen himself was fighting and his famous poem Spring Advance is about the battle for Manchester Hill. Afterwards, we moved on to Marrieres Wood to learn about the bravery of the South Africans, and then onto Moreuil Wood where we learnt about the last battles with mounted cavalry and the first tank vs. tank battle at Cachy. To finish the day, we visited the Sir John Monash Centre, which is a state of the art centre dedicated to the Australian forces who took part in WWI.
In the evening, after our group meal, members were treated to an unexpected performance by several Piper groups from Scotland, Belgium and France, who were touring the continent to pay their respects to the soldiers who fought in the First World War. Afterwards, the cathedral was lit up in their nightly illumination show that reflected the history of Amiens.
Despite the late night, the group were up bright eyed and bushy tailed on Sunday morning to continue learning about the part the Australians played in the war, up until the start of July when American troops began arriving to help relieve Allied troops on the Front. To begin with, we discussed the Battle of Amiens, which took place on 8 August 1918 and was described by Ludendorff as the Black Day of the German Army. This was the start of a series of successful Allied attacks involving Peronne, Bony and Riqueval Bridge, one of the most famous actions of 1918, where Wilfred Owen died leading his men across the canal.
Our journey home took us through the rear areas of the British Expeditionary Force, giving the opportunity to remember the vital role of the logistic and medical troops. The British Cemetary at Etaples contains the graves not only of those who died of battle wounds but also many of the victims of the 1918 Flu epidemic which, worldwide, killed many more than the war itself.
Our journey home was filled with members sharing some of their favourite poems from the war and a discussion of the value of poems as a record of what trench life was like for the men who were having to fight and live in those conditions. Watch D-G Diana Owen read from Wilfred Owen's Spring Advance.
We would just like to say a massive thank you to all those, staff and members, who made the trip so enjoyable for everyone and to a fantastic end to our WWI Battlefield series. View the gallery of images below.