The Bear has been riding around France ending up at a special slice of Australian history, the 1st Australian Division Memorial in Pozières... Words & Pics: The Bear.
To commemorate all the animal deeds and sacrifices in war, the Australian War Animal Memorial Organisation (AWAMO) has issued a purple poppy, which can be worn alongside the traditional red one. I head out to see the Australian war memorials in France…
My good and now sadly deceased friend Bertrand Cadart was a French Marine. When he was demobbed in New Caledonia, he bought a surplus BMW R 60 from the Military Police and shipped it to Brisbane. The idea was to ride it home to France. That never happened. Bertrand fell in love with Australia and settled here, making many contributions to motorcycling like the La Parisienne fairings and the promotion of Bicheno in Tasmania as Australia’s first motorcycle-friendly town.
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On a visit to the family home in France, his father informed him that he was going to be disinherited. Why? “Because you hate France.” – “Because I live in Australia?” said Bertrand, loaded his father into the family car and took him to the town of Villers-Bretonneux, not far away. When the old man had seen the many tributes to the Australian soldiers who liberated the town in the Great War, his father turned to Bertrand with tears in his eyes and lifted his disapproval.
The town is effectively a war memorial all in itself, and it has many ties to Australia which have only strengthened in the century since the war. There are echoes of gratitude in Amiens, the nearest city, too. And some thirty kilometres north-west of Villers-Bretonneux, near the 1st Australian Division Memorial marking “a ridge more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other place on earth,” in the words of C.E.W. Bean, lies a memorial to beings which gave their lives unquestioningly alongside those soldiers.
This is the Pozieres War Animal Memorial. “What began as a humble project to open a small monument in the heart of the WWI battle fields quickly drew the attention of other counties and has now become an international war animal memorial for all countries,” says the AWAMO website. The memorial was dedicated in July 2016 by another friend, Brendan Nelson, who had been Australian Defence Minister and – here’s a nice touch – television vet Dr Harry. Another nice touch is that it is marked “WW1 Animal War Memorial”, commemorating all war animals of that conflict not just the Australian ones.
There is no great marble mausoleum or flag-lined gallery here. The small plot of land is laid out tastefully and thoughtfully with war graves behind it and is maintained year round for free by French locals who do not wish to forget the sacrifice made by animals as well as people. Some benches invite quiet thought.
What does all this have to do with motorcycling? Well, for a start I know that many Aussie riders who visit Europe make a point of touring the battlefields of the Second and especially the First World War. This is not just a matter of respect but also a memorable exercise in the importance that Australia and New Zealand had in these great wars. So many men, so many deaths deserve to be remembered. And there is something uplifting about taking in the solemn lines of graves – as well as the Animal Memorial.
On a more prosaic level, Pozieres lies on the French D929, not far from the A1 main road which connects Paris with the Netherlands and the Channel ferry ports and the Chunnel. You can do worse than spending a night in Amiens; stay in the Central & Anzac Hotel; it’s only a two star, but it’s friendly and I will bet you’ve never seen so many Aussie and Kiwi flags in the one room.
While north-eastern France might look flat and uninteresting with straight roads on Google Maps, the reality is far different. The minor roads have curves enough and are lined with sometimes century-old trees. The many small towns have inviting cafés and patisseries just right for a refreshing stop. The park-lined river Somme runs through here to the Channel, too. If you head a little east, you’re in champagne territory.
Like the rest of France, this area offers a bit of everything. But there aren’t any war memorials dedicated to animals anywhere else, in France or elsewhere. Take a look at Villers-Bretonneux, too, and see why Bertrand was re-established in his father’s good books – and will. Click here to find out more about the 1st Australian Division Memorial.