The gift of a school to Villers Bretonneux by Melbourne school children.
The Villers-Bretonneux School Photograph Collection features items of various formats documenting the role of the Victorian Department of Education and the school children of Victoria in the rebuilding of the school at Villers-Bretonneux, France after its destruction in 1918 during World War 1.
Re-named ‘Victoria College’, the Ecole de Garcons (Boys School) in Villers-Bretonneux was destroyed along with much of the town on the 25th April 1918 when the worlds first battle between two tank forces took place involving three British Mark IVs and three German A7Vs. During that night and following day, the Australian 13th and 15th Brigades under Brigadier-General Glasgow and Brigadier-General Elliot respectively recaptured it from the Germans in a battle which resulted in over 1,200 Australian soldiers being killed.
The school was rebuilt with donations from the Victorian Department of Education as well as Victorian School children and their teachers, who helped the effort by asking for pennies, in what was to be known as the Penny Drive. The Victorian Department of Education contributed 12,000 pounds and the School was officially opened on ANZAC Day in 1927. The school was appropriately renamed ‘Victoria College’ and the hall inscribed with the words “N’oublions jamais l’Australie“ (Never forget Australia), with the pillars in the School hall boasting wood carving illustrations of Australian Flora and fauna.
The Battle of Villers Bretonneux
On April 24th 1918, the small town of Villers-Bretonneux was the site of the world’s first battle between two tank forces: three British Mark IVs against three German A7Vs. The Germans took the town, but that night and the next day it was recaptured by 4th and 5th Division of the Australian Imperial Force at a cost of over twelve hundred Australian lives.
On the 14 July 1919, the Maybor of Villers-Bretonneux unveiled a memorial for the fallen Australian Troops. He spoke of their everlasting gratitude to the brave Australian soldiers and promised a respectful resting place for those who perished protecting their soil.
“The first inhabitants of Villers-Bretonneux to re-establish themselves in the ruins of what was once a flourishing little town have, by means of donations, shown a desire to thank the valorous Australian Armies, who with the spontaneous enthusiasm and characteristic dash of their race, in a few hours drove out an enemy ten times their number…They offer a memorial tablet, a gift which is but the least expression of their gratitude, compared with the brilliant feat which was accomplished by the sons of Australia…Soldiers of Australia, whose brothers lie here in French soil, be assured that your memory will always be kept alive, and that the burial places of your dead will always be respected and cared for…”
The inhabitants of Villers-Bretonneux continue to express appreciation of Australia and their soldiers to this day. The Australian War Memorial in France is located just outside Villers-Bretonneux with the graves of over 770 Australian soldiers directly in front, as well as those of other British Empire soldiers involved in the campaign. The annual ANZAC Day ceremony is held at village on April 25th each year. On the 90th anniversary of the 24-25 April 1918 battle, a special dawn service was held on ANZAC Day itself.
Lee Hooper, Access Services Officer