Villers-Bretonneux cross returns

WA Premier Alan Carpenter will tomorrow present a replica of the Villers-Bretonneux cross from Perth's St George's Anglican Cathedral to the Catholic Church of St John the Baptist in the Somme village liberated by ANZAC troops on the night of 25 April 1918.

The original cross, made of timber salvaged from the ruined village, hangs in St George's Cathedral, Perth. It is being taken to France for the 90th anniversary commemorations, The Australian reports.

Australian government officials expect up to 5,000 people will attend the first Anzac dawn service to be held at the Australian War Memorial, near Villers-Bretonneux, on Anzac Day.

THE Australian invasion of France for ceremonies to commemorate the anniversary of Australia's most significant victory on the Western front - 90 years ago on Anzac Day - is under way.

2,473 Australians were killed, along with 9529 Britons and 10,400 Germans, as Allied soldiers fought to retake the village after it was overrun by German troops two days earlier.

It was a Germany's last throw of the dice, after its spring offensive of 1918 had been stopped.

Henceforth German forces would be pushed back until the Armistice in November.

One of the destroyed buildings was the St Jean de Baptiste church - once the centre of village life, like so many others in the small towns of France's agricultural north. It had been pounded by the artillery shells of both sides, and was a smouldering ruin.

Also to be returned to St John the Baptist is a set of holy cards collected in 1918 by Australian soldier, Private Tom Treacy, son of a devout Catholic family from Cairns.

One was a picture of a saint, the other a prayer card used at the funeral of Villers-Bretonneux resident Francis Postel 25 years earlier, on April 8, 1893.

Treacy later posted the cards to his mother, Kathleen, in Cairns, adding a note on the back of the holy picture: "Dear Mum, I found these in the ruins of the church at Villers-Bretonneux."

Tom Treacy died on Australia Day 1939, his lungs finally destroyed by the heavy doses of mustard gas he received while carrying his countrymen out of the front line two decades earlier. He was 48.

When Kathleen Treacy died in 1956, her bible was passed on to her granddaughter, Norma Walsh, of Greenacre, NSW. Inside were the cards.

"I gave the picture card to my niece because it carried Tom's handwriting," Mrs Walsh said. "But I always felt M.Postel's prayer card should be returned."

When Mrs Walsh read of The Australian's Our Other Anzac Day tour to Villers-Bretonneux this year, she contacted tour organiser Paul Murphy and asked if he would carry the card back to its reconstructed church.

"I'm 86, and too old to go myself," she said.

"But it is the right thing to return it, and I'm very pleased that this will now happen,"she told The Australian.

SOURCE

The return to Villers-Bretonneux The Australian, 19/4/08)

Aussies flock to France for Anzac Day (The Australian, 22/4/08)

LINKS

Villers-Bretonneux (Wikipedia)

Villers-Bretonneux (Digger History)

Villers-Bretonneux (Official website)

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