In the heart of the Somme Valley, surrounded by ponds and wetlands, a tiny village watches over Australia’s fallen soldiers.
Étinehem, a few kilometres south of Albert, was liberated by soldiers from the 13th Australian Infantry Brigade on 10 August 1918.
The breakthrough was part of a broader Allied campaign, the 100 Days Offensive, which included a sequence of operations in Lihons, Proyart, Chuignes, Mont-Saint-Quentin and Étinehem.
To commemorate the Australians a century later, a plaque has been inaugurated on the local war memorial, stating “Étinehem-Méricourt – With gratitude to the Australian liberators – August 1918-2018”.
The Mayor of Étinehem, Frank Beauvarlet, said residents wanted to remember the Australians’ brave actions.
“The few hundred inhabitants of this village wanted to mark in their own way the final year of First World War centenary commemorations,” Mr Beauvarlet said.
“We still feel the Australian presence here. A few kilometres to the north, the Côte 80 French National Cemetery on top of a hill overlooks Étinehem.
“This cemetery was built during the First World War and redesigned in 1923 when the cemeteries of Étinehem and Méricourt-sur-Somme were combined.
“There are 1,000 graves of French soldiers who died during the Battle of the Somme including 49 Commonwealth soldiers; 21 are Australian.
“Some of them belonged to the 13th Australian Infantry Brigade. Eleven were killed on 10 August 1918 and were buried next to their Commonwealth comrades the existing cemetery, a vestige of the Battle of the Somme in 1916.”
During the First World War, Étinehem was destroyed as German troops took over much of the Somme. The village had been in Allied hands until March 1918, before the German army launched a major campaign.
The battle at Étinehem on 10-13 August 1918 was the result of difficulties encountered two days earlier by the British Fourth Army; slow progress north of the Somme had enabled German forces to gather on two ‘peninsulas’ on the river, Chipilly and Étinehem.
The Germans planned to encircle the Australians, forcing them to a stop in front of Méricourt, their final objective.
On 9 August 1918, General John Monash planned an attack to recapture the heights around Étinehem. With permission from British Army commander General Henry Rawlinson, on 10 August the 13th Brigade launched a surprise attack to recapture the north bank.
Étinehem, like so many other French villages, will never forget Australia and will watch over its dead for ever. – Étinehem Mayor Frank Beauvarlet
“The ambush caused the enemy troops to retreat towards Bray and allowed the Australian soldiers to settle on the heights of Étinehem. Although the Germans recovered quickly, they lost control of the area and, on the night of 12-13 August, the enemy was defeated,” Mr Beauvarlet said.
“General Monash’s Australian soldiers recaptured the Somme village by village, liberating the French.
“The courage of the Australians, as well as the recognition of the French people towards the Australian troops, helped build a strong relationship between the two countries.
“This connection with Australia is today celebrated in the village and the local people wanted to strengthen this bond with this new tribute.
“Étinehem, like so many other French villages, will never forget Australia and will watch over its dead for ever.”