Saturday 18th of April, 2020
On Anzac Day 1918 Australian soldiers captured the French town of Villers-Bretonneux, an action that was called ‘one of the finest feats of the war’. This is your chance to commemorate the anniversary of this outstanding attack, alongside fellow Australians, on the ground where the fighting took place. This tour visits the key Australian battlefield sites on the Western Front, Paris and Bruges – the highlight being the Dawn Service on Anzac Day.
Welcome to our Western Front tour! After checking in to our Paris hotel, we will come together this evening for a welcome drink. This is an excellent opportunity to get to know our fellow passengers, Tour Manager and War Historian. After drinks, we’ll enjoy a welcome dinner together in the hotel. (D)
STAR INCLUSIONS ★ Welcome dinner in Paris
Our tour in the footsteps of the Anzacs begins today. After breakfast we depart Paris for Ypres in Belgium, one of the most significant towns on the Western Front and our home for the next four nights. On route we will travel through the Somme region and visit Villers-Bretonneux, the centre of Australian commemoration on the Western Front. Our first stop will be the Australian National Memorial, which features the names of nearly 11,000 Australians missing from fighting in France. We will have time to pay our respects at the memorial and the adjacent cemetery, before visiting the Sir John Monash Centre, the brand new audio-visual museum that tells the story of Australian courage and sacrifice on the Western Front on hundreds of interactive screens. We will then continue to Ypres to check into our hotel and enjoy dinner at a local restaurant walking distance to our hotel. (B, D)
STAR INCLUSIONS ★ Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux ★ Sir John Monash Centre
Between 1914 and 1918 the town of Ypres was the centre of four great battles, and was completely destroyed by shellfire. Today the rebuilt town is one of the iconic places on the Western Front. This morning we will take a walking tour around the town, visiting key sights from the war such as the magnificent Cloth Hall, St George’s Chapel, St Martin’s Cathedral, the Menin Gate and Ramparts Cemetery. We will end the walking tour at the In Flanders Field Museum where we will have free time to wander at our leisure. This evening we will return to the Menin Gate, where the names of 54,000 missing British and Commonwealth soldiers are recorded, for the moving Last Post ceremony. The Ypres fire brigade has performed this bugle ceremony every day and in all weather since the memorial opened in 1927. The only interruption was during the four years of German occupation during the Second World War – the ceremony recommenced on the day the town was liberated. Two of our passengers will be invited to lay a wreath on behalf of the group. (B)
STAR INCLUSIONS ★ Walking tour of Ypres ★ In Flanders Fields Museum ★ Participation in the Last Post service at the Menin Gate
The Ypres Salient was a bulge in the front line that curved around Ypres for most of the war. More than a million men were killed or wounded trying to gain control of this small patch of ground. Today we will explore the Australian battlefields in the Salient, places where the Anzacs made history in 1917. Our first stop will be the Passchendaele Museum, which features a recreated British dugout. We will then visit the 5th Australian Division Memorial at Polygon Wood and see the graves of Private Hunter and Sergeant Calder, the two Australian soldiers who featured in Mat McLachlan’s documentary ‘Lost in Flanders’. Lunch is included at Cafe de Dreve, where the owner, Johan Vandewalle, will tell us about his discovery of the bodies of Private Hunter and Sergeant Calder in a Belgian field. We then get a taste of the devastation caused by four years of continuous artillery fire at the cratered landscape of Hill 60, before visiting Tyne Cot, the world’s largest Commonwealth war cemetery. Tyne Cot sits in the heart of one of the most horrific battlefields of the war – Passchendaele. Our final stop today is at the German Cemetery at Langemarck, where we will learn about the men on the other side of the line. As we drive back to our hotel we will see the magnificent Canadian memorial at Langemarck, marking the spot where poison gas was first used in the war. (B, L)
STAR INCLUSIONS ★ Full day touring the battlefields of the Ypres Salient ★ Passchendaele 1917 Museum ★ Presentation by Johan Vandewalle
Today we will spend time exploring Bruges, one of Europe’s most charming medieval cities. Wander the cobbled streets, take a cruise on one of the city’s enchanting canals, ride through the picturesque squares in a horse and cart or sample the lace boutiques, chocolate shops and cafes that make Bruges famous. On the drive back to Ypres we will stop at Essex Farm Cemetery, where in 1915 Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae composed ‘In Flanders Fields’, the most famous poem of the war. (B)
STAR INCLUSIONS ★ Bruges ★ Essex Farm Cemetery
Today we leave Ypres and travel south to the battlefields of the Somme. Our first stop is the battlefield of Messines, scene of a huge Allied attack in 1917 that was heralded by the explosion of 19 massive mines. We will then travel to French Flanders, and the very moving 1916 battlefield of Fromelles, where Australia lost 5533 men during its first action on the Western Front. While here we will visit the Australian Memorial Park, VC Corner Cemetery (the only all-Australian cemetery in France), the site of the recently discovered Australian mass grave at Pheasant Wood and the new Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Cemetery, where 250 Australian and British soldiers were laid to rest in 2010. We will also visit the Fromelles museum, opened in 2014, which tells the story of Australia’s disastrous involvement in the Battle of Fromelles. Our final stop of the day is the battlefield of Bullecourt, where Australia lost 10,000 men in two great battles in 1917. We will pay our respects to them at the Slouch Hat memorial in the centre of town and the Australian Memorial Park on the site of the German front line. A packed lunch is included today. (B, L)
STAR INCLUSIONS ★ Touring of the battlefields between Ypres and the Somme including Fromelles and Bullecourt
This morning we will spend some time in the town of Villers Bretonneux and visit the Franco-Australian Museum and neighbouring remarkable Victoria School where we will see the sign that entreats the children of Villers-Bretonneux to ‘Never Forget Australia’. We will also visit Adelaide Cemetery, the place where Australia’s Unknown Soldier lay for 75 years before being returned to Australia in 1993. We will enjoy lunch at the town of Naours before visiting the underground tunnels where many Australian soldiers left their mark with graffiti. Their names have become a self-made memorial at a site that has been a tourist attraction since the 1800s. Our final stop for the day will be Vignacourt, a city that remained behind the lines during WW1 and was therefore a place of refuge for Australian soldiers on a break from the front line. We will visit Vignacourt 14-18, a new photographic museum located in the old Thuillier family farmhouse. We will enjoy dinner at our hotel before the much anticipated Anzac Day Dawn Service. (B, L, D)
STAR INCLUSIONS ★ Franco-Australian Museum ★ Victoria School ★ Vignacourt 14-18 museum
An Anzac Day we will never forget! We have an early start this morning in order to make our way to the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux. We will gather here with thousands of other Australians to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the battle of Villers-Bretonneux as we pay our respects to our 45,000 countrymen who were killed during fighting on the Western Front. As the sun rises over the imposing memorial to Australia’s 11,000 missing in France, the strains of the Last Post will echo across the countryside, peaceful now, but the scene of a monumental Australian victory on Anzac Day 1918. After this moving ceremony we will enjoy a piece of Australia in the heart of the Somme – breakfast with the townspeople of Hamel. This town was liberated by Australian troops in July 1918, and we will be made very welcome by the local people. Following breakfast we will conduct a memorial service at the Australian Memorial Park near the town. This very special breakfast event is being conducted exclusively for Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours, and is a wonderful highlight of the tour. Later in the morning we will begin our tour of the 1916 battlefields of the Somme. Our first stop will be the imposing Lochnagar Mine Crater, which was detonated beneath the German lines on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Even though erosion has reduced the size of the crater it is still enormous – more than 100 meters across and 30 meters deep. We will then visit the village of Pozieres, scene of the most costly battle in Australia’s history. 23,000 men were killed or wounded in six weeks’ fighting, and we will visit the scenes of their heroic sacrifice at the 1st Division Memorial and the Windmill. We will also have time to walk the battlefield with our historian, gaining a better understanding of the fighting that led to more Australian casualties than any other battle in our history. We will then return to our hotel where our evening is free. (B, L)
STAR INCLUSIONS ★ Anzac Day Service at Villers-Bretonneux ★ Hamel Breakfast ★ Lochnagar Mine Crater
Our last day in the footsteps of the Anzacs will see us return to the 1916 Somme battlefields, where we will visit the maze of trenches at the Newfoundland Memorial Park. The Newfoundland Regiment was almost wiped out here on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. We will then drive past the Ulster Tower, modelled on Helen’s Tower in Northern Ireland, before visiting the spectacular Thiepval Memorial, where the names of more than 72,000 British men missing from the Somme fighting are recorded. We will also see Mouquet Farm, scene of a costly advance by Australian troops in August 1916. We will then visit the battlefield at Mont St Quentin, where Australian troops won a great victory in August and September 1918, and pay our respects to them at the Australian 2nd Division Memorial. We then farewell the battlefields and return to Paris. This evening we will enjoy a farewell dinner cruising along the Seine River, a wonderful opportunity to see the landmarks of Paris bathed in light. (B, D)
STAR INCLUSIONS ★ Touring of the Somme battlefields ★ Farewell Seine Dinner Cruise
Sadly our Western Front Tour ends this morning after breakfast. The journey may be over but the memories will last a lifetime. (B)
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Please note: Itineraries are subject to change due to operational reasons. In addition, your Historian may alter the sites visited on each day to suit local conditions. Any changes will be advised closer to the time of departure.