WWI tour group heads back to Western Front

WHILE the horrors of Gallipoli are on the minds of war historians in April, Warrnambool’s David McGinness will shine a light on the tragedy of the Western Front.

The war historian will fly out this week to visit France and Belgium as increased focus is given to World War I a century after the Allies and the Central Powers first spilled blood on the European continent.

Mr McGinness will travel with a small group of south-west history enthusiasts and visit some of the key battle sites such as Villers Bretonneux, Fromelles and Passchendale.

He said while Gallipoli was an important part of Australia’s military history, the battlefields of Belgium and northern France held a special connection to hundreds of Australian families.

“The Battle of Fromelles was a huge disaster for Australia — 5500 soldiers died in the space of 24 hours — a big number by anyone’s standards,” Mr McGinness said. “When you consider the population of Warrnambool was roughly 7500 at the same time, that battle represented a massive loss of life.

“I think we have a duty as Australians to remember those young men, many of them teenagers, who ventured to the other side of the world and were killed fighting for their country in a land they’d barely heard of.”

Mr McGinness said the interest in our wartime history really started to be appreciated following Australia Remembers (1995) — the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II.

“Before that, most Australians didn’t have much interest in WWI or WWII, let alone our more recent wars, but now the level of interest is really strong in the general community with many more people looking up relatives who might have died on the battlefield.”

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