VILLERS-BRETONNEUX, France, April 23 AAP – Passing through the serene, colourful countryside of northern France, it’s almost impossible to fathom the horror that came a century before.
Bright yellow, blooming canola fields and immaculate green fields line the winding roads, masking the bloodshed from World War I that will always be connected to these lands.
The Western Front in France and Belgium, where 46,000 Australians died between 1914 and 1918, was once a picture of carnage, a battleground of trench warfare described as a “muddy hell” by those who fought there.
Today, the beauty of the area is striking to those who come to visit the many war cemeteries and battlefields.
“There’s a real dichotomy,” says Major-General David Chalmers, the chief executive of Anzac Day services in France.
“On the one hand it’s beautiful … yet the soil here at Pozieres for example (where 23,000 Australians died) is the piece of ground most soaked with Australian blood.
“In some ways, it’s really hard to be here on a beautiful afternoon and try to imagine the fighting that occurred here.”
Major-General Chalmers, though, believes visiting the battlefields is the only way to get any sort of grasp of what the diggers went through during The Great War.
Increasing numbers of Australians are travelling to the region and both French and Australian authorities have made ongoing efforts to enhance the experience.
The Australian Remembrance Trail project links cemeteries, memorials and museums at the sites of many significant battles across the Western Front.
“For me there’s only one way to see and comprehend what happened and that was to go to the battlefield and to stand on the ground and to read the material that’s available there and through guide books and websites,” Major-General Chalmers said.
“We can never really understand the horror of the Western Front, but by visiting each of the locations, we can get some idea what it was like.”
Many Australians have arrived in the region this week and an expected crowd of more than 4000 will commemorate Anzac Day at Friday’s dawn service at the Australian National Memorial, located on the outskirts of Villers-Bretonneux.