‘Nuffield’ is not just about Farming, it’s about the bigger picture. Earlier this year, as part of my Nuffield Farming Scholarship program, I, along with fellow Australian, Canadian and New Zealand Nuffield Scholars spent three days on a battlefields tour of the Western Front in France and Belgium.
It was an incredibly moving experience, and having never been to the battlefields and associated memorials on the Western Front before, the scale and enormity of the loss of life strikes home with incredible power. Well aware of the number of British casualties and injuries sustained prior to my visit, I hadn’t appreciated the number of allied deaths until now, which was also on a huge scale.
During the First World War, the Western Front was the main area in which the majority of the fighting took place. Following the outbreak of war in August 1914, the German Army opened the Western Front by invading Luxembourg and Belgium, before gaining military control of important industrial regions in France. Following the race to the sea, both the British together with Allied Forces, and the German Army dug in, creating a meandering line of fortified trenches, stretching from the North Sea to the Swiss frontier with France. This line remained unchanged for the most of the war.
Our tour commenced in Amiens, then headed through the Somme before finishing in Ypres. As the majority of Nuffield Scholars on our trip were Australian, we focused on the battles where Allied Forces were located.
Amongst the many cemeteries we visited, the first was the Adelaide Cemetery in Villers-Bretonneux. Villers-Bretonneux became famous in 1918, when the German advance on Amiens ended in the capture of the village by their tanks and infantry. On the following day, Australian Divisions recaptured the whole of the village. There are now 960 Commonwealth servicemen buried or commemorated in this cemetery. Back in 1993, an unknown Australian soldier was exhumed and is now buried in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
Another notable Allied Force cemetery which we visited was Vimy Ridge in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France. Dedicated to the Canadians, there is a very impressive Canadian memorial. The battle of Vimy Ridge was a military engagement fought primarily as part of the Battle of Arras. The main combatants were the Canadian Corps against the German Army, with 4,000 people losing their lives in this single offensive.
Visiting the Commonwealth cemeteries, it was moving but humbling to see service personnel from all allied forces buried together in the same location. Many graves dedicated to those unknown laid to rest amongst others whom they will have served with.
Our tour finished with a visit to the evening Menin Gate remembrance service in Ypres. This was a particularly moving moment, and I along with a representative from each of the Nuffield Farming countries was given the honour of laying a wreath during the remembrance service. The last post sounded, amplified by the grandeur of the Menin Gate itself, a particular poignant moment.
The numbers of causalities sustained during the First World War was astonishing. Britain had over 886,000 fatalities, whilst Australia lost nearly 62,000 personnel with the overwhelming majority falling in France, not at Gallipoli which seems to get more coverage. 72,400 Indians, 64,700 Canadians and 18,200 New Zealanders also lost their lives in the conflict.
This battlefields trip, organised by Australian Nuffield Scholars was not a trip that I had expected to be part of as I commenced by Nuffield Farming journey, but it was, without doubt one of the key, most memorable visits that I have experienced so far. For me, it was a privilege to have visited the many commonwealth cemeteries along with an international group of Australians, Canadians and New Zealanders. This visit brought home the stark reality of the implications of war.
Incredible people with good core values are what keep the wheels of the world turning, and as we take time to remember those who have gave their lives for us, we should never forget the ultimate sacrifice that so many people, both from Great Britain as well as other countries have given, so that we can all can enjoy the freedom, the livelihood and society that we all have today.