A LONG-DESERTED battlefield in the French countryside is giving a group of south-west students fresh insight into Australia’s role in World War I.
Twenty Warrnambool College students will join the Anzac Day ceremony near the village of Villers-Bretonneux, which Australian fighters famously helped retake from the Germans in April 1918.
Teacher Greg Twitt said the year 10 to 12 students were getting a first-hand view of the old Western Front and how the locals had embraced Australia since the crucial battle.
“They have signs all over the town about Australia. There is a rue du Melbourne and a rue du Victoria, and a Victoria School. It is amazing,” Mr Twitt said.
Each student has also researched a soldier from the Warrnambool area who was killed in World War I and buried in the nearby cemetery. “One of the stories was of a soldier who was wounded on the front line near here. As he was being stretchered back, another shell dropped and hit and killed him directly,” Mr Twitt said.
“The story goes that if it hadn’t been a direct hit on him then all the stretcher bearers would also have died, so he kind of saved their lives.
“Another student researched an indigenous soldier who joined despite Aboriginal soldiers being barred from service, and despite being obviously indigenous he was really accepted by his fellow troops.”
Mr Twitt said the research helped students understand the local sacrifice in the war, which would be brought home further at the town’s Anzac Day ceremony.
“The main Australian World War I memorial is just out of town. They are expecting 7000 people to be there this year at the service,” he said.
It is the third time the college has made the pilgrimage to Villers-Bretonneux for Anzac Day.
“We have a sister school relationship with the lower secondary school here, College Jacques Brel,” Mr Twitt said.
“Students are billeted out with host families, so they really get to see French culture and language up close and personal. They are doing really well.”
Students also have time for sightseeing, French cooking and language classes and even a chance to teach local students the fine art of playing Aussie rules football and netball.