Anzacs to be remembered in special northern France match

This long weekend presents us with another ANZAC Day, when we mark the landing of the First Australian Imperial Force at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915. We also give thanks and remember all those who have served our nation during war and peace time operations.

Thanks to the annual Essendon-Collingwood ANZAC Day match, footy has been partially woven into the fabric of this special day, with many suburban and country leagues now having a feature match on the national day of commemoration.

Image: AFL Europe

Female footballers have also chosen to honour this special date in our calendar, and not just at home through the annual Australian Defence Force vs VWFL All-Stars match.

On the other side of the world, women representing Australia and France will meet in a match in northern France to not only mark the weekend of the Gallipoli landings, but also the important role Australians played on the western front that weekend 98 years ago.

The Second Battle of Villers-Bretonneux saw the German 2nd Army attack with mustard gas and high explosive rounds on the evening of April 23, 1918. The village was taken by morning, making the railway junction of Amiens vulnerable to capture.

However, the Australian 13th and 15th Brigades created an envelope attack and surrounded the village just 24 hours later, isolating the Germans despite being outnumbered. With help from the British, the Australians recaptured Villers-Bretonneux on April 25, three years on from Gallipoli.

A special bond has been formed between that village comprised of approximately 4,000 people and Australia since that day. After the war, the local school was rebuilt from donations by school children from Victoria. Out of respect, the phrase N’oublions jamais l’Australie’ – ‘Let us never forget Australia’ – was marked on every school blackboard.

Villers-Bretonneux is also the site of the Australian War Memorial in France, the resting site of more than 770 Australian and other British Empire soldiers who fought in that campaign.
One of the women to take part in the ANZAC Cup match is London-based Australian and Wandsworth Demons premiership footballer, Kate Grabowski.

“I first heard about this game because a couple of our [Wandsworth] Demons girls played in it last year,” Grabowski told Girls Play Footy.

“The experience they had was quite incredible and they said they had such an amazing time.

“So I decided to do this because it is a very special weekend, as a lot of Australians can appreciate.”

Selection for the Australian side in the match was not just based on ability, but AFL Europe’s desire to know what ANZAC Day meant personally to each player.

“Although I’m second generation Australian, my grandparents came over from Poland; they escaped World War 2,” Grabowski explained.

“For me, ANZAC Day is quite special because every year they used to march in the ANZAC Day parade in Sydney. We used to watch them every year and it was quite an amazing experience for me.

“War has affected so many people in so many different ways, and I know that although they’re not with me at the moment, they would be so proud of me representing Australia on this special weekend.”

One of the players representing the French national team on this special weekend is Berengere Portal, who discovered the game when she visited Australia a few years ago.

“When I got back to France, I found a team in Paris and just fell in love with the game,” Portal told Girls Play Footy.

“We have three or four games a year and we try to play more and more because of the Championships next year.”

For Portal and her fellow teammates, the occasion of ANZAC Day and what it means to Australians is not lost on them.

“It’s a great honour to take part in this event because I think it’s very important to be grateful for the Australians and New Zealanders who sacrificed their lives for our country.

“It’s a big event for the year [for Villers-Brettoneux], so it’s very important to organise this.

“They have maybe a few hundred people in this town and they love this event.”

The weekend for both the Australian and French men’s and women’s sides is filled to the brim. The matches will be played on Saturday, while Sunday will be spent with local families and visiting the War Memorial. The trip will be concluded on the Monday with the dawn service.

With just two years until the centenary of the Second Battle of Villers-Brettoneux, no doubt more Australian female footballers will consider making the trip and pulling on the boots for a game in this special place in our nation’s history.



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