The Prince of Wales attends commemorations to mark 100 years since the Battle of Villers-Bretonneux

 

The Prince of Wales attended commemorations on behalf of Her Majesty The Queen today to mark 100 years since the Battle of Villers-Bretonneux.

The Prince paid tribute to the bravery of men who fought and died in a battle which marked a crucial turning point in the First World War.

Speaking during early-morning commemorations to mark 100 years since the Battle of Villers-Bretonneux, where Australians fought alongside British troops to free the French town from German capture, The Prince said they must continue to be honoured and told descendants that the courage of their ancestors was "amazing".

Thousands of volunteer soldiers took part in the surprise night-time attack to save the small town near Amiens from capture on 24th April 1918. Some 3,900 Australians in the 13th and 15th Brigades fought alongside three British battalions in the simple but dangerous plan which saw troops encircle the town to trap the enemy. By morning they were virtually surrounded. Its success effectively put an end to the Germans' 1918 spring offensive.

The Prince joined the Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and the French Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, at the Australian National Memorial just outside Villers-Bretonneux.

During the service, His Royal Highness read an extract from the diary of Private Frank Purnell, who had been a school teacher in Waga Waga two years prior to 1918.

The event coincided with Anzac Day commemorations around the world – the Australian and New Zealand national day of remembrance, which honours those who served and died in conflict.

The Australian Army Band and the Voices of Birralee choir greeted an 8,000-plus crowd with traditional wartime music and anthems.

A Spirit of Place ceremony opened the event, with an indigenous didgeridoo performance before a dawn service began. A roll of honour for 48 soldiers was read before the readings and wreath laying commenced.

After the service, His Royal Highness met representatives from 17 nations who fought on the Western Front and Australian Football League (AFL) players Edward Morgan and Priscilla Lodge, who each year play an Anzac Cup game.

They presented The Prince with a sports jersey personalised with "Wales 70" to mark his milestone birthday later this year.

The Prince ended his visit by viewing the newly opened Sir John Monash Centre, which tells the story of Australia's involvement in the military action using interactive displays. It is named after the Lieutenant General who led the Australian Corps on the Western Front in 1918, including the 4th July 1918 victory at Le Hamel, and uses letters, diaries and pictures to tell the stories of his troops.

After signing a guest book and posting a tribute, His Royal Highness met descendants of those who were embroiled in battle.

Royal Flying Doctor Andrew Barron and his 11 relatives travelled to France from Brisbane to honour his great-grandfather, Captain Earnest Docker, who survived the battle when serving with the 13th Australian Field Ambulance.

Mr Barron said: "It was a very moving service and great to meet The Prince. He said it was wonderful that all of us could be here and said he found our story fascinating.”