On 11 November 1918 at 11am the guns of World War One fell silent, following the signing of Armistice Agreement between the Allies and Germany at Compiegne, France for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front.
First observed in 1919 and originally called “Armistice Day”, Remembrance Day commemorates the signing of the Armistice. Today, Remembrance Day has grown to become a time to reflect on all wars, commemorate all those who served, and remember all who lost their lives.
While WWI ended 105-years ago, the battlefields continue to reveal new stories and secrets. Battlefield historian Mat McLachlan has spent over two decades following in the footsteps of the Anzacs on our significant historic battlefields, and is amazed at the treasures still being uncovered, and which wait to be found. Mat McLachlan has spent the past three months in Europe researching the Australian battlefields and walking the ground, uncovering historic objects and stories.
The Western Front is the most popular battlefield destination for Australians. Located just a few hours from Paris, and easily accessible from London by the Eurostar to Lille, the Western Front is visited by thousands of Australians each year seeking to walk in the footsteps of the Anzacs. In the past year, Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours has led over 120 groups to the Western Front, totalling around 800 travellers. Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours had three coaches on the Western Front for Anzac Day 2023, ran 28 4-day Western Front Explorers, led 5+ Custom Groups, and operated 85 private tours to the battlefields of northern France and Flanders (Belgium). In 2024, Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours has over 100 travellers booked onto its range of Anzac Day 2024 Western Front tours alone.
Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours’ offers Western Front tours year-round, with its most-popular 4-day Western Front Explorer offering weekly departures from April to November, special 9-day Anzac Day Commemoration tours, Western Front Walking Tours, Mat McLachlan’s Western Front Signature Tour, 2 to 3-day Private Tours departing on any day of a traveller’s choosing, Custom Group Tours, and more.
Stories from the Western Front battlefields
Phillip ‘Tubby’ Clayton - Queensland-born Army Chaplain and co-founder of Talbot House ‘everyman’s club’
Mat McLachlan said: “One incredible story is that of Tubby Clayton and Talbot House. Suring the Great War, Poperinge was part of unoccupied Belgium. Behind the Lines of the fighting on the Ypres Salient, this town became a place of respite and reprieve for Commonwealth soldiers. Here, Australian Army chaplain Tubby Clayton, along with Neville Talbot, opened an ‘everyman’s club’ which provided rest and recreation to all soldiers, regardless of their rank. Tubby and Neville expanded out their charitable activities to begin the international Toc H movement – which continues to deliver social service around the globe today. The Toc H movement, which holds its beginning with Tubby Clayton and Talbot House in Poperinge continues to be strong in Australia and in countries around the world. Today, Talbot House in Poperinge continues to offer rest and relaxation to all who walk through its doors, and visiting the beautiful grounds, uncovering the story of Tubby Clayton and his important work through the on-site museum, is an incredible experience.”
The iron harvest continues, revealing stories of soldiers and battles
Mat McLachlan said: “I recently led a group of Australians on a tour of the Western Front. One of our group had a great uncle who was killed at the Battle of Fromelles, Private William Fletcher who was part of the AIF 60th Battalion. After completing research on Fletcher pre-tour, we set out to find the rough site where he was killed. We found the site of the specific action his great uncle had been involved in, and as we stood I looked down and found an unfired projectile at our feet. On examination, the projectile would have belonged to an Australian soldier who was killed or wounded in this vicinity.”
“About 1.5 billion shells were fired on the Western Front during the Great War. Demining teams are active all over this historic Front, working to safely remove unexploded shells and grenade that work their way up through the soil to the surface. Unexploded grenades and large ordinance can still commonly be found across the battlefields, on one of my recent visits, I found a British hand grenade and unexploded German shell.”
To learn more, or book your battlefield tour, visit battlefields.com.au
Jess Stebnicki, firstname.lastname@example.org