The efforts of Australian World War I soldiers on the Western Front in France deserve better recognition from the wider public, the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Michael Ronaldson says.
And speaking at the opening of a museum dedicated to the Australian contribution to the Battle of Fromelles, the first major battle fought by Australians on the Western Front and in which 5500 Australian soldiers were killed or wounded, Senator Ronaldson was optimistic that this would soon be the case.
“For many years the Battle of Fromelles went largely unnoticed and unremarked in Australia. That is now changing,” Senator Ronaldson said on Friday.
“This brief, utterly catastrophic and largely futile battle is now arguably better known than almost any other battle fought by Australians on the Western Front.
“(But) what we need to understand is a far wider understanding of those theatres that we took part in. And that will happen very quickly.
“As a nation we are focused on Gallipoli in 2015, but then the focus will shift to the Western Front.
“I believe there will be 100s of thousands of Australians who make the pilgrimage to the Western Front and to the Somme as they have to Gallipoli.”
Senator Ronaldson hopes the opening of the museum, partially funded to the tune of $1 million by the Australian government, in the tiny township of Fromelles will ensure that the legacy of the Western Front diggers lives on.
“The extraordinary experience of our soldiers on the Western Front deserves to be better known,” he said.
“The museum will help ensure the story of Australian service and sacrifice in this bloody battle will never be forgotten.”
On Saturday, the previously unmarked graves of a further 20 Australian soldiers will have their headstones rededicated after DNA evidence was able to identify them earlier this year.
For that, Senator Ronaldson says Australia will forever be indebted to the people of Fromelles.
“That you (the Fromelles residents) honour our dead in the way that you do today, and you did 98 years ago, is something very special to my nation,” he said.
“While I acknowledge that you believe you owe our men a great debt, I want to say to you that we similarly owe you an enormous debt for the way you honour them.”
There are still 67 Australian and two British soldiers, from the 250 discovered in a mass burial site in Pheasant Wood, who remain unidentified.