If you’re wondering what this year’s WWI battle on the Riverfront Arena each day will be about, keep reading!
From the Battle of Amiens on the 8th of August 1918 until the Armistice on 11th of November 1918 is the period known as the ‘Hundred Days’. This was a time of almost constant advance for the Allied armies.
As the Allies were pursuing the Germans the greatest obstacle to crossing the Somme River to reach them was a natural feature – Mont St Quentin. Situated at a river bend dominating the countryside for kilometres in every direction, the Mont was only 100 metres high but was key to the German defence of the Somme line, and the last German stronghold. It overlooked the Somme River approximately 1.5 kilometres north of Péronne. Its location made it an ideal observation point and strategically the hill’s defenses guarded the north and western approaches to the town and key to the German defense of the Somme line and as such Lt. General Sir John Monash was keen to capture it and thus possess a valuable position.
This Australian operation is sometimes regarded as the finest achievement of the 1st AIF during the Great War. On night of 31 August, the 2nd Australian Division crossed the Somme River from the north-west and attacked Mont St Quentin at 5:00 am. The uphill terrain was difficult for the Australians and attacking across open ground made them vulnerable to attack from the German positions on the slopes above.
On 29-30 August the 5th Brigade comprising the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th Battalions of the 2nd Australian Division seized hills that dominated the river crossings and proposed approach route. Their numbers had been depleted during earlier fighting and the troops were exhausted. Each battalion’s strength was down to around 300 men.
The 17th Battalion on the right flank was to seize the village of Mont St Quentin and the small forest on the summit beyond the road. The 20th Battalion on the left flank was ordered to seize the line of the road down the northern slope to the Feuillaucourt Bridge and the 19th Battalion was to guard the right flank by occupying two parallel trenches which ran down the south western slope of Mont St Quentin and overlooked Peronne. The 18th Battalion was assigned the job of close support to the assault battalions.
Rifle grenades and trench mortars were used to outflank outpost positions. The battalions positioned to the right of the line of attack made a lot of noise to distract the Germans, while the centre and left battalions gained footholds on the hill and in the village of Feuillaucourt on the left of the line.
The demoralised Germans, fearing they were being attacked by a superior force, surrendered in large numbers. The 20th Battalion moved up to make a bayonet charge and captured the Gottleib trench. As the Australians reached the summit, large numbers of German soldiers were sent fleeing down the slopes. By 7am the troops had occupied the village of Mont St Quentin and the slope and summit of the hill. However, the small size of their forces meant that their hold on the position was tenuous.
The five German divisions defending Mont St Quentin were confused and dispersed by the ferocity of the Australian attack and many had fled.
By midnight on 31 August, the Australians had captured 14,500 prisoners and 170 guns since 8th of August. The next day on 1 September, Allied troops also broke through lines to Péronne by 8:20am.
However, the Germans quickly regrouped and launched a counter-attack and that first day of September saw fierce fighting and heavy losses. Germans attacked and heavily shelled Péronne with much of the fighting being hand-to-hand combat.
The outnumbered Australians were pushed back off the summit of Mont St Quentin, and lost Feuillaucourt. Relief battalions were sent and duly reinforced, all areas lost were retaken by the Australians, but at the cost of 3,000 casualties. One casualty, Private Alex Barclay of the 17th Battalion was shot in the head by a sniper’s bullet during the attack. Miraculously the bullet passed right through his skull and he survived to re-enlist in the Second World War.
On 1 September, the 6th Brigade consisting of the 21st, 22nd, 23rd and 24th Australian Battalions seized the summit on their second attempt. The 14th Brigade of the 5th Australian Division, which included the 53rd, 54th, 55th and 56th Battalions, captured the woods north of Péronne and after defeating a short-lived German attack took the main part of Péronne. An attempt to pass the northern side of the town was stopped by heavy fire from the ramparts. On 2 September, the 7th Brigade, which included the 25th, 26th, 27th and 28th Australian battalions, drove beyond Mont St Quentin and the 15th Brigade made up of the 57th, 58th, 59th and 60th Battalions seized the remainder of Péronne and the 3rd Division advanced on the northern flank. By the evening of 3 September, the Australians held Péronne, captured Flamicourt the next day and then advanced three kilometres to the east.
Monash said of the Mont St Quentin and Péronne campaign that it furnished the finest example in the war of spirited and successful infantry action conducted by three divisions operating simultaneously side by side.
Eight Victoria Crosses were awarded to Australians between 31 August and 2 September 1918.
The fight had also included battalions from every Australian state. British Commander General, Lord Rawlinson remarked that this feat by the Australian troops under Monash’s command was the greatest of the war.
Forced out of Péronne, the Germans had to retreat to their last line of defence, the Hindenberg Line.
So you’ve made the decision to bring the family to History Alive: A Journey Through Time on the Queen’s Birthday long weekend and you’re ready for an awesome day. But with 2000 years of history in one place, where do you begin?!
If you’re coming by car, you’ll need to drive to 91 Sandy Camp Road, park the car and take the free shuttle bus to Fort Lytton National Park. Or you can take the train to Wynnum North train station and take the free shuttle bus to Fort Lytton.
Accessible parking is available at Fort Lytton, please have your Australian Disability Parking Permit clearly visible so traffic management can wave you through.
The shuttle buses are provided by the Queensland Omnibus and Coach Society.
So what is happening at History Alive this year?
Below is just a sample of the events during the day. Make sure to check out the program here.
10am: The day kicks off with a World War I Memorial Service and the firing of Fort Lytton’s 64-pounder cannons to commemorate the Anzac Centenary, followed by a WWI scenario in the Riverfront Arena where you’ll get to see our WWI groups in action.
11am: Take a wander through the encampments and learn about 14th Century cooking with the Knights Order of Lion Rampant or head over to the Lytton Arena for a 1930-40s Dance workshop and show the kids some new (old) moves! Immediately afterward in the Lytton Arena Dance Kaleidescope will be hosting a Regency dance workshop so there is no excuse for not getting some fun exercise in for the day.
Noon: You can watch WWII re-enactors in action with an Eastern Front battle playing out in the Riverfront Arena. For those of us who are hopeless romantics, Company of the Phoenix is hosting a 15th Century betrothal ceremony in their encampment.
1pm: Lunch time! Go visit our food vendors for a yummy feed. There really is something for everyone. Pancakes on the Go, Roam’In Pizza and Hungarian Langos (to name just a few) will all be on hand to satisfy the whole tribe. A new addition this year is The Curious Caravan, a 1957 vintage caravan coffee bar. Do not miss it!
Once everyone is fuelled up for the rest of their adventure, head to the Riverfront Arena to catch a tribute to the Battle of Waterloo by La Belle Alliance, or work off some energy at the Lytton Arena with a Medieval dance workshop.
2pm: Knights! That’s all we need to say to get you back up to the Riverfront Arena to catch the 14th Century Tournament of War. Also, don’t miss the Costume Competition in the Lytton Arena. Open to all children up to the age of 14. Find more details here.
3pm: Learn some techniques in the noble art of fencing from the Prima Spada School of Fence in their encampments. The Saga Vikings close out the action in the Lytton Arena with Viking Shield Walls, while Army Group South have the final battle for the day on the Riverfront Arena with the Pacific Theatre Battle.
4pm: After a full day of fun the 64-pounders fire for the last time and we sadly say goodbye for another year and start getting excited for next year. Of course you can make a whole weekend of it and come on both Saturday and Sunday to make sure your family doesn’t miss a thing!
See you there!
This weekend we will come together as a nation to remember the ex- and current service men and women who have served in our defence forces, and the sacrifices they have made in all wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations over the last 100 years. With this year marking the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing — our nation’s first big test in an armed conflict — it remains an ever-present and important job to pass on the meaning of ANZAC Day to our kids. However, we all find that it can be hard to start the conversation about war and ANZAC, especially with the very young. We love getting kids involved in history and believe in the importance of sharing our past with our future, so we’ve come up with some ideas on how to commemorate ANZAC Day with them and start the important work of sharing our ANZAC legend.
1. Bake ANZAC biscuits
Baking in many families is a very social and relaxed activity, with a lot of room for conversation. Why not involve the kids in your life and get them baking some ANZAC biscuits. You can use this time to start the conversation and ask them what they think ANZAC means. Explaining how the ANZAC biscuit — or the ANZAC wafer or tile — was used by soldiers while baking and eating the biscuits can make it easier for kids to relate. The Australian War Memorial has a great explanation of the significance of the ANZAC biscuit, as well as some traditional recipes to try:
2. Take them to a dawn service or an ANZAC Day March
While it can be a daunting prospect getting the whole tribe up and ready for a dawn service, the experience can be a great opportunity for kids to gain a deeper understanding of ANZAC and why it is so important to Australia as a nation. Being with thousands of other people in solemn remembrance is powerful for all ages. For some however this can be too much with very young kids, so consider going to the Anzac Day March in your local area. It is incredibly moving for adults, and the fanfare is engaging for kids. Check your local RSL website to find out times. Families Magazine wrote a great post on how to make it as easy as possible.
If you are in the Brisbane area, click the link below to find out the when and wheres on ANZAC Day:
3. Put an ANZAC plant in your garden
There are many plants with special meaning to ANZAC that you can plant with kids in your garden. Rosemary is a popular and easy to care for choice, and it can be a daily reminder and conversation starter. You can explain that Rosemary was growing in abundance on the Gallipoli peninsula and is inextricably linked to our ANZACS. Next year you can wear a sprig on ANZAC Day.
Have a look at the link below for some ideas on some plants significant to ANZAC:
4. Help your kids learn the facts
Some kids will be keenly curious about ANZAC Day and having a kid-friendly way to learn the facts and stories of ANZAC can really help keep their interest alive. For really young kids there are many picture and story books that introduce ANZAC Day:
Once they get a bit older, help them find accurate and reliable information by vetting websites and books before they read them. Here is a suggestion:
5. Write a message to our troops
While we remember those who have been lost and given the ultimate service in past conflicts, we also remember the service of our service men and women who are currently overseas. Talk to your kids about the men and women serving overseas at the moment and try to explain why in a gentle way. The Department of Defence runs an amazing service that allows the public to show support to our defence personnel. Kids can put in a great amount of effort into a tangible project such as decorating a card to send overseas and it is a wonderful way to support our troops and thank them for their sacrifice, devotion and loyalty.
How do you commemorate ANZAC Day with kids? Join the discussion on our Facebook page.