This year’s Anzac Day commemorative activities in Villers-Bretonneux will again include presentation of the Sadlier-Stokes Prize which symbolises the historical bonds between Australia and northern France.
The prize is awarded to one primary and two secondary schools in the Somme and Nord Pas-de-Calais to encourage French students to learn more about Australia.
Children in these regions grow up surrounded by soldiers’ graves and war memorials, and researching school projects on Australians’ military service helps them know more about the events of 100 years ago and the people who gave so much.
The Sadlier-Stokes Prize commemorates the heroic actions of two Australian men, Sergeant Charles (‘Charl’) Stokes and Lieutenant Clifford Sadlier VC, during the second battle to liberate the town of Villers-Bretonneux.
Both men from Western Australia bombed and captured a string of enemy machine gun nests during the Second Battle of Villers-Bretonneux.
Sadlier was inspirational in the counter-attack. Despite being wounded, he led troops against enemy machine-gun positions. At one point, he assaulted a machine gun by himself while armed with only a revolver, putting the post out of action. Wounded a second time, he was finally removed from the action.
Lieutenant Sadlier was awarded the Victoria Cross ‘for magnificent courage and determination, inspiring everyone by his fine fighting spirit’.
Similarly, when all of his comrades were wounded, Sergeant Stokes single-handedly attacked and captured an enemy machine gun, enabling his company to continue its advance. When he returned to his platoon, he found his commander had been wounded and at once took command and led the men forward.
Sergeant Stokes was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal ‘for splendid courage and coolness under heavy fire’.
After the war, he returned to Australia to work on his farm, named ‘Villers’, and raised a family.
Lieutenant Sadlier, who was previously employed as a clerk and commercial traveller, was invalided to Australia. He married, and worked for the Repatriation Department and served as state secretary of the Returned Services League in Western Australia.
For more information about the Sadlier-Stokes Prize, email [email protected]
- Merrilyn Lincoln. “Sadlier, Clifford William King (1892-1964). Australian Dictionary of Biography. Vol. 11. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1988.
- Peter Burness. 1918 – Villers-Bretonneux to Le Hamel: Australians on the Western Front. Canberra: Department of Veterans’ Affairs. 2008.