Château de Saint-Gratien, which was used by General John Monash as his headquarters in 1918, will open to the public next month to commemorate the Battle of Hamel.
The château received such a positive response to a public art exhibition in April, for the Anzac Centenary Commemorations, that the owners have decided to open again with the exhibition from 1-8 July, to commemorate the Battle of Hamel.
The exhibition includes artworks painted by Australian war artists on the grounds of the château, during the First World War. Curated by the descendants of the original owners of the château, the artworks will be placed at the locations where they were painted in and around the château.
There is also another form of art – soldiers’ graffiti – at the residence, mainly on the walls of the barn, not unlike that found in the Naours Caves.
The Château de Saint-Gratien was the headquarters for Australia’s 2nd, 3rd and 5th Australian Divisions (signals personnel) from April to August 1918. The 3rd Division, with General Monash, were present from 31 March to 11 May 1918.
At the time, the chateau was a hive of activity, a place of logistics, administration and support, including signals.
The 1788 castle had not been open to the public but descendants of the original owners, wanted to commemorate the centenary of the First World War.
“We are the great-great-grandchildren of Fernand and Clotilde de Thieulloy who welcomed nearly 50 different corps of troops and staff during the 1914-18 war, including the Australians in 1918,” descendant and curator Hortense Lefebvre, said.
“It seems important to us to display this place and to share its heritage with the descendants of Australian soldiers, to fulfil the duty of memory.
“We opened for the first time in April. Those eleven days were for us a beautiful moment, rich in emotions, filled with encounters. The people who saw the exhibition were delighted to discover this French heritage and history through Australian art.
“Some thanked us for the immersion in the atmosphere of the spring of 1918, the beginning of the Allied counter-offensive. Others felt a lot of emotion at the idea of ‘walking in the footsteps’ of General John Monash, 100 years later.
“Others felt intense emotion and appeasement as they walked through each stage of the show. The paintings were there to recall these moments, both tragic and moving. They emphasised the aspiration to Peace and the deep desire of men to commune with the beauty of this park, populated with 200-year-old trees.”
Hortense said the exhibition features 20 reproductions of watercolours by three leading Australian war artists.
“The exhibition honours great Australian names, including A Henry. Fullwood, Frederick Leist and Arthur Streeton, who painted the interior and the surroundings of Saint-Gratien,” she said.
Many of Australia’s official war artists drew inspiration from the Chateau de Saint-Gratien and reproduced scenes in watercolours and charcoal sketches.
One by Leist shows soldiers in the courtyard, lounging the sunshine. Another, by Fullwood, shows men on the lawns. Likewise, Streeton painted Australian staff clerks at work, doing routine typing and administration, set against the grand colonnaded interior of the castle.
Together, the Australian artists recorded aspects of the war that others may not have noticed or simply took for granted.
The Château de Saint-Gratien is about 15 minutes from the Sir John Monash Centre, north-east of Amiens, and bookings are not necessary for the art exhibition. For more information go to the château’s website.