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Recollections from an Australian in France, 1938

Villers Bretonneux. 22 July 1938. The official party during the Dedication of the Australian War Memorial at the Villers Bretonneux Cemetery (AWM H17471).


Posted on 7 April 2018

In 1938, Lieutenant-Colonel Ross Jacob was invited to represent Australia’s returned servicemen and women at the unveiling of the Australian National Memorial in Villers-Bretonneux.

He recorded his observations for Sir Gilbert Dyett, an associate of Sir John Monash. This letter about his journey to the former Western Front, where he commanded the 10th Battalion, is now held by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in England. It gives an insight into the ceremony that took place in Villers-Bretonneux 80 years ago and the imperial relations at the time.

26th September 1938, Adelaide


On arrival in London … July 11, (owing to the postponement of the Unveiling Ceremony because of the regrettable death of the Queen’s mother) I decided to visit the War Cemeteries in France and Belgium, and was met at Burlogne … by Sir Fabian Ware, Deputy Chairman of the Imperial War Graves Commission…

I spent the best part of a week visiting the War Cemeteries, and was deeply impressed by the wonderful way in which they are cared for. They are simply beautiful gardens.

At Ypres, on behalf of the League, I placed a wreath at Menin Gate.

July 22nd we left [Paris] by special train for Villers Bretonneux. … It was a beautiful day for the Unveiling, and … I had an opportunity to scatter the Ashes of the cards and ribbons entrusted to me by the League over the graves of Australian soldiers…

Padre Green made a short and appropriate address, after which ashes were scattered …

Her Majesty the Queen, when she was told that I was the sole representative of the ex-servicemen and women of Australia, asked me if I had come all that way to be present at the Unveiling.

When I replied “Yes, your Majesty,” she turned to the King and said: “How wonderful.”

It was then, more than at any other time, that I appreciated the wonderful honor I had of representing the ex-servicemen and women of Australia…

The King and Queen inspected the Guard of Honor of approximately 400 diggers, and Her Majesty was presented, by a small French boy, with a bunch of poppies which he had gathered from the surrounding fields … the Queen, who was just behind the King, was noticed to whisper to him.

I noticed that he nodded in consent, and she gracefully moved up and placed the bunch of poppies on the King’s wreath. She stood in silence and bowed, then returned to His Majesty…
It was very pleasing to note how many Diggers were present and constituted the Guard of Honor.

These men were either visitors to England and the Continent, or residents there. … It was nice to see how much attention the King and Queen paid to them …

I left England on the ‘Queen Mary’ on August the 3rd, and was on this wonderful ship when she broke the record between South Hampton and New York. On one day … she did the amazing speed of … 36 miles per hour …

I was delighted to return to dear old Aussie … and to attend the A.I.F. Ball [in Melbourne] and meet so many old Digger cobbers.

Yours faithfully
R. B. Jacob

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