We were on our third day of touring the Australian Battlefields of World War I and had just paid our respects to one of our family heroes, Lance-Corporal Frank Leslie Bell, at the Queant Road Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery.
As we boarded the bus we saw the weather had begun to deteriorate with storm clouds gathering all around.
We were not far from the Australian Memorial Park, which is just outside Bullecourt, and this was our next stop.
Originally this park was opened on Anzac Day 1992, for the 75th Anniversary of the Battles of Bullecourt, in honour of those who had fought there. The Memorial was in the form of a large stone cairn in the middle of spacious lawns. However at the time, many felt it didn’t quite capture the spirit of the more than 10,000 Australian soldiers who had been killed or wounded in the horrific battles, which had taken place here in 1917.
The Australian War Graves Office then commissioned Melbourne sculptor, Peter Corlett to produce a bronze statue, that would better reflect the character of the Australian soldiers, who fought at Bullecourt. The ‘Digger’ statue was erected atop the cairn and unveiled Anzac Day 1993.
For over twenty years, this larger than life Digger, has gazed over the battlefields of 1917.
As we got off the bus we could see the Memorial in the distance, some hundred metres or more across the park, between fluttering flags atop the flagpoles.
Some of our group read the story-boards at the park entrance before setting off along the long straight pathway.
We soon arrived at the foot of the cairn, read the memorial plaques, and many of the group stood in silence admiring the statue. Some were endeavouring to take photos at various angles, to capture the perfect shot of the ‘Digger’, when there was a couple of very audible ‘Wows’ from one of the group. This fellow was quite a military historian and had explained many things during the tour to those of us less knowledgeable. We all agreed it was quite a statue. However, he answered us by saying that was not what he meant.
“He is ‘perfectly’ kitted just as the men at Bullecourt would have been. Nothing is missing!” he exclaimed.
It was then the ‘historian’, and our Tour Guide, Pete, proceeded to identify every bit of the soldier’s kit from his head to his toes and explained how it was used. The next twenty minutes was a history lesson none of us will forget, and it also gave us such a wonderful insight into the life of the soldier in the trenches.
To me, the ‘Digger at Bullecourt’ will remain one of the more ‘special’ memories of our Australian World War I Battlefields Tour.