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Remembrance Day: Western Front continues to reveal new secrets 105 years on

Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours 4 mins read
AIF unfired projectile found on Battle of Fromelles, in the vicinity of where Private William Fletcher was killed.

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 secrets of soldiers 100-years uncovered through unearthed belongings

“Outside a cemetery, I leant down and in the side of the road bank was a small piece of a British water bottle – you could tell from the blue enamel – with two very neat bullet holes straight through it. Soldiers carried their water bottles at all times, either on their hip or in their pack, so the likelihood is that the water bottle owner’s fate was sealed with these bullets,” said Mat McLachlan.

 

“An internal working of a mouth-organ, found on the Somme shares the story of a music-loving soldier who brought his mouth-organ with him to battlefields. He would have played this as he sat in the trenches and prepared for battle. It would have been a prized personal possession, and he likely had it in his top pocket or pack as he went into combat.”

 

“These stories are revealed about soldiers on both sides – with a German mess tin pierced by lead shrapnel balls, with a black tinge on its base invoking imagery of German soldiers sitting around a fire cooking stew in their mess tins, and telling the tale of this soldier’s last moments – dying on the battlefield shot by shrapnel balls while carrying his mess tin on his back.”

 

“The copper nut from an 18-pound field gun shares the story of the weaponry used. Artillery was the big killer of the First World War. The 18-pounder was the backbone of British and Commonwealth artillery and more than 10,000 were produced. The copper note from this 18-pound field gun is a rare find on the battlefields, because, in the 1920’s the ‘metal-walkers’ were licensed to walk the Western Front battlefields collecting brass remnants to be melted down and recycled, so this is a very rare object to find.”  

 

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


Contact details:

Jess Stebnicki, jess@mclachlantours.com.au

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