Villers-Bretonneux Memorial, France

Villers-Bretonneux Australian Memorial to the Missing, Somme battlefields, France.
Villers-Bretonneux Memorial, viewed from the west side, with the Australian and French flags in the foreground.
Villers-Bretonneux Memorial.

The Villers-Bretonneux Memorial is an Australian National Memorial. It commemorates all of the Australian soldiers who fought in France and Flanders from 1916 to 1918 during the Great War of 1914-1918.

The Memorial serves also as a place of commemoration for those who died, and most particularly it is the place where all the names of those Australian officers and men who were killed in action in Fance and who have no known grave are commemorated.

Australians Missing in France

Battle honour inscription for the Battle of the Ancre on the Somme battlefield, with names of the missing below it on the memorial wall at Villers-Bretonneux Memorial.
Battle honour inscription for the Battle of the Ancre and names of the missing below it on the memorial wall at Villers-Bretonneux Memorial.

The Australian officers and men named on this memorial were killed and reported missing from the 1916 Battles of the Somme, the 1917 Battles of Arras, the German advance in the spring of 1918 to the Battle of Beaurevoir in the final Allied Advance to Victory of 1918.

There are 10,982 names inscribed on the memorial. Of those names the remains of some men have been discovered after the memorial was built. Six individuals whose names were on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial were identified as having been buried with the group of 250 burials recently discovered at Pheasant Wood near Fromelles. Where a soldier is discovered on or near the battlefields his remains will be reburied in a military cemetery with a headstone and his names will be recorded in the cemetery register. See our Related Link below for Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Cemetery at Fromelles.

Some names have been added in recent times to the wall of names where the officer or soldier was not officially recorded as missing in action on any other memorial.

View looking up to the top of the tower from the stairwell at the base of the tower.
View looking up to the top of the tower from the stairwell at the base of the tower.

As at 2011 there are 10,765 Australian officers and men still officially recorded on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial as missing on the 1914-1918 battlefields of France.

Australians Missing in Flanders, Belgium

The Australian servicemen who were killed and who have no known grave in the battlefields of Flanders in Belgium are named on the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing in Ypres (now spelled Ieper). See our Related Link below to find out more about the Menin Gate Memorial.

Design of the Memorial

The tower at the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial.
The tower at the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial.

The Memorial and the cemetery were both designed by Sir Edwyn Lutyens. An Australian and a French national flag fly at the western end of the memorial.

The Tower

The centrepiece of the Memorial is a tower.

On the right and left of the doorway into the tower there is an inscription on the stone wall in English on the left and in French on the right, which reads:

TO THE GLORY OF GOD AND IN MEMORY OF THE AUSTRALIAN FORCE IN FRANCE AND FLANDERS 1916-1918 AND OF ELEVEN THOUSAND WHO FELL IN FRANCE AND HAVE NO KNOWN GRAVE

Inside the tower a stone stairway leads up to the top of the tower and a viewing platform. From here visitors can walk around the top of the tower on a walkway, affording 360 degree views (weather permitting) across the Somme battlefields and beyond.

A stone orientation table at the top of the tower has bronze markers pointing to towns and villages in the landscape.

Usually the tower is open to the public but there may be occasions when it is closed. This will generally be due to bad weather. If you need to check whether it will be open you can contact the Commonwealth War Graves Commission via our Related Link given below.

Portico

The portico at the northern end of the memorial wall at the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial.
The portico at the northern end of the memorial wall at the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial.

There is a Roman style portico at the northern and southern end of the memorial wall commemorating the names of the missing. Each of these buildings is open at the sides and sheltered by a roof. They have columns and flags carved from stone.

The Memorial Wall of Names

View looking east towards the city of Amiens from the top of the tower.
View looking east towards the city of Amiens from the top of the tower.

The Villers-Bretonneux Memorial features a long wall in four sections where the commemorated names are carved on stone panels in battalion order, and within each battalion the names are listed alphabetically by rank.

The names of the battles in France in which Australian Forces were involved are carved along the the top of the memorial wall.

Memorial Register

The registers of the names commemorated on the Memorial can be found in the brass box in the stairwell of the tower. Names are recorded in alphabetical order.

Stone Map

A round map of the Western Front battlefields carved in stone is to be found on the wall of the stairway inside the tower. This map commemorates the locations of battle actions where Australian forces were involved.

Unveiling of the Memorial

Stone map on the wall inside the tower.
Stone map on the wall inside the tower.

The memorial was unveiled at a ceremony by King George VI on 22nd July 1938.

Search for Names on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial

Poppy wreaths laid in Remembrance near to the Memorial Register box inside the tower.
Poppy wreaths laid in Remembrance near to the Memorial Register box inside the tower.

Search the online “Debt of Honour” Register held by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for names inscribed on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial. Go to this link and look in the Cemetery Records button at:

CWGC Cemetery Record Search: Villers-Bretonneux Memorial

Second World War Damage

During battles in this area in the Second World War of 1939-1945 the memorial was damaged. A certain amount of refurbishment was carried out by the early 1950s, but some of the scars in the stonework were left. Marks from bullets and artillery shell fragments can be seen.

Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery

The cemetery is located at the western side of the memorial grounds.
The cemetery is located at the western side of the memorial grounds.

The Villers-Bretonneux Cemetery is located on the western side of the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial. Visitors approach the memorial by walking through the cemetery.

Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery, Fouilloy

Location of the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial

The memorial is situated on the D23 road about halfway between Villers-Bretonneux and Fouilloy.

Parking

There is parking space available at the roadside for cars and coaches. Visitors are reminded that care should be taken when moving about by the parked vehicles. The D23 road is generally quiet, but vehicles travel fast when they are passing this place.

Further Reading

Cover of Over the Top book

Over the Top: A Digger's Story of the Western Front

by H G Hartnett

Henry George Hartnett enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in September 1915. He saw action at the Battle of Fromelles and the Battle of the Somme 1916, where he was badly wounded. On his recovery he rejoined his battalion on the Western Front. This is a highly recommended book. 348 pages. Published by Allen & Unwin (1 Nov 2012), ISBN-10: 9781742375953; ISBN-13: 978-1742375953

Related Topics

Cemeteries and Memorials on the Somme Battlefields

Cemeteries on the Somme Battlefields

Momuments and Memorials on the Somme Battlefields

Australian Soldiers Missing in Belgium

The Australian soldiers who were killed in action in the battlefields of Flanders in Belgium, and who have no known grave, are commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing in Ypres (Ieper):

Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing, Ypres

Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Cemetery

Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Cemetery, Fromelles

Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC)

For information about the CWGC, contact details and a link to the Commission website see our page at:

Commonwealth War Graves Commission