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On 19 July 1916, across these peaceful fields, 6,400 Australian and 3,400 British soldiers advanced southward along a 3,700-metre front towards the village of Fromelles. The action was intended to draw German reserves away from the battle of the Somme, raging since 1 July, 61 kilometres to the south, and to capture the strategically important Aubers ridge, on which Fromelles stands, for the Australians, this was the first major battle on the western front. It was also to be the most disastrous.

The ground from VC corner Australian cemetery (built after the armistice) to east beyond this plaque was the main area crossed by the Australians in their assault. The German lines were on the opposite side of today's road and separated from the allies by between 100 and 450 metres of open countryside. The British attack (west of the cemetery) made no gains, but the Australians took the German trenches. These positions could not be held, however, for the Australians were outnumbered and outgunned. At dawn on 20 July, therefore, the surviving Australians ran the gauntlet back to their lines. Behind them they left the bodies of 1,299 comrades, many of whom were not buried until after the war.

In this brief action, the British suffered 1,547 casualties, the Australians a devastating 5,533. Moreover, it was the only time in France during the war that the Australians failed to achieve their military objective. Their confidence in the British high command was also undermined. Meanwhile, Auber's ridge remained securely in German hands until October 1918.

Today, the distant spires of the churches of Fromelles and Aubers stand guard over this land, now so much a part of Australia's military history.


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