The Western Front: 100 Years On.

The Western Front: 100 Years On.

Written by Bianca Blades on 30th October 2018 at 12:00am

During the First World War (1914–1918), once known as ‘The War to End All Wars’, the Western Front was a 700km-long battlefield that tore up the landscape from the Swiss border to the Belgian coast.


The Western Front saw many conflicts, such as the four-month-long Battle of the Somme, which resulted in more than one million casualties.


(Above: Perth Cemetery just outside Ypres, Belgium)


Amid the destruction and immense loss of life, red field poppies were one of the few wild flowers that grew on the grounds of war. In Flanders Fields, a 1915 poem written by Canadian doctor Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, immortalised the poppy as a symbol of the lives lost to war.


One hundred years after the armistice of WWI, Back-Roads Touring is paying tribute to the fallen. On November 11 2018, Battlefields Tour Leader Steve Western will visit the Western Front with a small group of guests and stand together to honour those who lost their lives in their line of duty.


(Above from left to right: Back-Roads Tour Leader Steve Western, The Memorial at Chipilly to the 58th London Division)


We spoke to Tour Leader Steve as he prepares to guide the Battlefields trip to the Western Front on Remembrance Day 2018.


Your group will visit Villers-Bretonneux on November 11 2018. Can you share the significance of this place with us?


Steve: The Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux is the scene of the historic victory by the Australians on 25 April 1918 on the third anniversary of their landings on the beaches at Gallipoli. It’s an extremely moving place for all Australians to visit.


There were many Anzacs (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) who landed at Gallipoli and who were also at Villers-Bretonneux - where some lost their lives. It was symbolic that they were going into battle on the same date as the Gallipoli beach landings.


Before the ceremony I will remind the group to think of those in our families who fought, who survived and who died. The land on the Western Front is etched with all our DNA.


(Above: The Last Post played at Ypres)


What inspired you to become a Back-Roads Battlefields Tour Leader?


After visiting the battlefields for a number of years, learning so much, taking in so much information, building a great wealth of knowledge of the geography of the landscape, I thought it was about time to put something back. Pass on my knowledge and experiences to others.


Previously, I came from an engineering background, and you never know how you are going to adapt to something completely different. But the knowledge and the desire to pass this knowledge on, and the fact that the battlefields is my passion, was enough to give me confidence to help others discover the history of the battlefields.


Once you become a Battlefields Tour Leader you soon realise it’s more than just showing people what happened. It is the geography of the landscape and in some cases, sadly, showing them where family members lost their lives. Travelling in small groups, the tour is so much more personal which makes the whole experience far more rewarding for everyone.


(Above: Canadian Memorial, Vimy Ridge)


What is a lesser-known part of WWI history that tends to surprise guests?


Probably the Christmas Truce of 1914. I take my guests somewhere different for the Christmas Truce. In fact, it is a very important place in Australian history, just north of Fromelles, but it is also the scene of one of the best available accounts of the Christmas Truce of 1914.


That being said, I think the majority of the guests are surprised at what they see and hear once they arrive on the battlefields. I often have guests tell me, ‘I’ve read about this area, but to actually see it brings it all to life’.


Thank you for sharing your impressions of the Western Front. One last question, can you tell us about any guests who’ve been able to locate the final resting place of their ancestors?


It’s an amazing experience to show guests where their family members are now resting. Everyone has a different reaction. Some will just lay a poppy, a wreath, or a flag and leave it at that.


Others talk to who they have come to visit, some will get very emotional. That, at times, effects nearly the whole group, me included.


One guest this year even brought some Australian soil to place on a grave.


It is not always possible but it adds to the guest’s experience if I can show them where their family fell. Or if I can get them as close as possible, they are always very appreciative.


Are you interested in paying tribute to your country’s fallen soldiers, or retracing the steps of your ancestors who served in the World Wars?


Read more about Back-Roads Battlefield Tours and the sites of significance you can visit on a moving journey of remembrance and respect.


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