The Sir John Monash Centre, Australia’s new interpretive centre on the former Western Front battlefields of the First World War, has been designed for all ages but particularly with young people in mind.
The Australian Government wants a new generation of people to know about the extraordinary Australians who gave up their jobs and farewelled their families to serve in a war on the other side of the world.
Australia was part of the British Empire during the First World War and sent more than 295,000 soldiers to France and Belgium to help the Allied effort. More than 130,000 were wounded and some 46,000 died.
The Australian Imperial Force was initially sent to Turkey but, when the conflict moved to Europe, they focussed their efforts on saving the towns and cities of France and Belgium. For three years, from 1916-18, they fought in the muddy and bloody trenches of the Western Front.
The French Prime Minister Georges Clémenceau personally thanked the Australian troops for protecting the people and children of France:
“The French people expected a great deal of you. … We knew that you would fight a real fight, but we did not know that from the very beginning you would astonish the whole continent,” Monsieur Clémenceau said.
The Australian Government built the Australian National Memorial in northern France in 1938, at the Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery. The cemetery is the final resting place for 2,144 Commonwealth soldiers and the walls of the Australian National Memorial to the Missing commemorates more than 10,700 Australians who died in France with no known grave.
Eighty years on from the opening of the Australian National Memorial, during the centenary commemorations of the First World War, Australia is reaching out to a new generation through the Sir John Monash Centre.
The Sir John Monash Centre presents history in a new and exciting way, offering an immersive experience that’s based on multimedia. With 440 screens projecting archival footage and historical recreations—one gallery alone has 186 screens—visitors are guided through the Centre by the Sir John Monash Centre app. The free app is a virtual tour guide that allows visitors to experience the site at their own pace and in their choice of English, French or German.
The story of Australians on the Western Front is told by soldiers through their personal experiences. Their average age was 23, but many were much younger, the youngest being a 14-year-old stowaway.
Men and boys signed up for a lot of different reasons, but they were often seeking adventure. The reality, however, was terrifying – standing in muddy, rat-infested trenches for weeks in the freezing cold, with no showers and only ration packs for food.
Being such a long way from home, they missed their families and longed for the warmth and wide open spaces of Australia.
Their values are now regarded as integral to the Australian way of life – courage, initiative, fairness and mateship – and these are enshrined in the Sir John Monash Centre, the 21st Century outpost named after one of Australia’s greatest military commanders.
To find out more about the Sir John Monash Centre go to www.sjmc.gov.au