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26 June 2014
"Never Forget Australia" is a motto emblazoned on Ecole Victoria - a school, rebuilt with Australia's help after World War One in Villers-Bretonneux in France.
1200 Australian soldiers died liberating the village from the Germans on April 24, 1918, in fighting that destroyed the school and the town. The school was subsequently rebuilt, after Victorian schoolchildren raised money to help the reconstruction.
In 2009, children at the French school raised more than $20,000 for the Strathewen Primary School, which was destroyed in the Black Saturday bushfires.
Ties, like this, forged between Australia, in particular Victoria, and France during World War One will be celebrated with a special open conference organised by Deakin University at the State Library of Victoria on Tuesday, July 15.
Organised by the George Rude’ Society, the peak body of French historians in Australia and New Zealand, the conference will bring together leading historians of France and the Great War to discuss the impact of the war on French society, its legacy and the ongoing commemoration of the war dead.
“Speakers will include Professor Annette Becker from the University of Paris, Professors Jay Winter and John Merriman from Yale University, Professor Martyn Lyons from the University of NSW, Professors Charles Sowerwine and Colin Nettelbeck from University of Melbourne and Associate Professor Simon Kitson and Dr Maartje Abbenhuis from the University of Auckland,” said Deakin University lecturer and organiser Greg Burgess.
“Professor Winter is a member of the French centenary commission and is well placed to talk about the preparation of the commemorative events to be held over the next few years.
“His talk – Commemorating Catastrophe: The Great War 100 Years On – asks and answers the question is it possible to honor those who die in war without honouring the war itself?”
Dr Burgess said Professor Lyons’ talk would look at the letters from French Soldiers to home.
“In the digital age it is easy to overlook the fact that in 1914 France literacy among the lower classes/peasantry was a recent achievement,” he said.
“So how did the soldiers in the trenches face up to the necessity of writing home?
“Their letters were significant for what they had to say about the war and being separated from their families and villages and acted as consolation for their families.
“But they were also significant for their silences.”
Dr Burgess said that the conference will also reflect upon France in the years before the war. Professor Merriman will talk about the role anarchists played in destabilising the country before WWI. Professor Charles Sowerwine will examine the role of nationalism in French politics and how this shaped its response to the German invasion in August 1914.
“France and Belgium were both occupied during the war, and we often forget that a third of France itself – the north and the east – was occupied by Germany from August 1914 to November 1918,” Dr Burgess said.
Stories of atrocities in Belgium and France affected opinion in Britain and the Empire from the earliest days. Maartje Abbenhuis considers how this influenced popular support for France. Simon Kitson will speak about France under German occupation, and the affect it had on the French people
“A whole society was transformed by the War.
“Everyone was affected”.
“The world was never the same again.
“The shape of the world today, even the borders that now define the Middle East, were a consequence of the World War One and the peace treaty that followed.”
Attendance at the conference will cost $95.
Further information on the conference is available here
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