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Battlefield pilgrims set off in footsteps of Anzac relatives

Lest We Forget. A resurgence of battlefield travel: Each year 1000s of Australians follow in the footsteps of Anzacs to uncover their relative's story

Australian battlefield pilgrims set off to uncover the battlefields where the Anzac legend was forged on Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours’ special commemorative 2023 Anzac Day at Gallipoli, Anzac Day on the Western Front, and Anzac Day at Ypres tours.

Mat McLachlan, founder of Battlefield Tours said: “Each year we lead thousands of Australians to follow in the footsteps of the Anzacs, our expert historians bring the stories of service and sacrifice to life helping travellers to uncover their own personal Anzac relatives’ stories, including visiting final resting places of the fallen.”

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“For many of our travellers, this is a pilgrimage and trip of a lifetime, but we also have many people return to tour the battlefields time and again, as although the sounds of gunfire on the Western Front and at Gallipoli ended over 100 years ago, there is always something new to discover on these great battlefields.”

Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours group visits Shrapnel Valley Cemetery, Gallipoli

Here, Anzac pilgrims share their stories.

Western Front battlefield pilgrims

Vincent Kelly and his nephew Ben Ivers, and Monica Leach together with her 15-year-old grandson, Patrick, are four of the travellers joining Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours’ 10-day Anzac Day on the Western Front tour. For these four, like many of the other travellers in the group, this trip is a pilgrimage to honour relatives who served in the Great War.

For Ben Ivers, while he is just in his young-20’s, this trip has been a long time coming. He was supposed to tour the Western Front on the Queensland Premiers Anzac Prize Tour in 2020 when COVID-19 struck, and borders closed. Ben and his uncle Vincent Kelly are following in the footsteps of Corporal William Kelly, and Ben created a five-minute presentation showing his Anzac family connection, which can be viewed HERE

Penning his great-grandfather’s eulogy, Ben Iver’s wrote:

“Corporal William Kelly of the 26th Battalion, was of humble origins, growing up in the Australian country town of Chillagoe, and it can be assumed, that just like me he was used to the heat!

“A labourer, William answered the call for war at the age of 23 years, embarking on the HMAT ‘Star of Victoria’, sailing away to what would become some of the most tumultuous years of his life, tragically leaving behind the woman he was engaged to, Josephine Smith.

“William would soldier on through the Western Front with the rest of the 26th, fighting in many battles, including the now infamous Battle of the Somme. Fighting bravely, William and the 26th fought on into 1918, but on the 21st of March, tragedy would strike, while fighting in the villages of Lagnicourt.

“During the fighting William was injured by shrapnel. The wound would ultimately be non-fatal and William was promptly sent home, and was awarded the War medal and Victory medal for his service.

“Relieved to be home, William would marry Josephine Smith on Christmas Day. William Kelly like most soldiers, and indeed most Australians had an excellent sense of humour, and always knew how to cheer up the 26th.

“I never met my Great Grandfather, but he lived his life to the fullest and had a good go at it! I would like to proudly honour my Great Grandfathers service, and I hope this eulogy has honoured his life achievements. He will never be forgotten.”

“Lest We Forget.”

For Monica Leach, at 74 years old, she has been dreaming of making this journey in the footsteps of her great uncle, Samuel Frederick Sandon, and grandmother’s first husband, Edward James Priest (Ted), since she was 11 years old.

Samuel Frederick Sandon was 17 years and 5 months when he enlisted and departed bound for training in Egypt on December 20, 1915, then straight to Marseille as a member of the 3rd Battalion.

He took part the Battle of Pozieres in July/August 1916 and was recommended for a Military Medal as a runner in a group of five privates who “Kept up communications which was impossible by telephone through the heavy shelling by the enemy”. Sam was killed in action on September 5, 1916, at Hill 60 Ypres aged 18 years and 5 months, and was buried at Railway Dugouts Burial Ground (Transport Farm) Zilleke, Belgium.

Edward James Priest (Ted) married Monica’s grandmother, Ethel Sandon, on February 9, 1916 and enlisted on 15 November 1916. He died on 3 May 1917 at age 22 and his name is listed at the Australian Memorial in Villers-Bretonneux. After Ted’s death, Monica’s grandmother married her grandfather.

Villers-Bretonneux-Military-Cemetery-Anzac Day on the Western Front BattlefieldTours

Monica wrote about what this pilgrimage means to her: “I first knew about Sam, my Dad’s Uncle when I was 11 years old.

“I remember my dad showing me a photo of his grave and I asked if we could go to the cemetery with some flowers. Dad replied that it was so far away, and not even Grandma would be able to do that. This is when my wish to visit his grave gained roots, as I felt so sad that my uncle had died in a faraway country without his family. I am now 72 years old, and my grandson and I will be the first in our family to do this pilgrimage.

“I also see Ted as a big part of our family as after his death my grandmother married my grandfather and so the generation of our family continued. My Grandmother symbolizes the story of the families at home.

“Ethel had her elder brother in France, who did return home, her husband and her younger brother who didn’t. She like many Australian women had to endure the grief of lost loved ones.

“My grandmother passed to me two special postcards that Ted sent from the Western Front, one for my grandmother’s birthday, and the final postcard he ever sent, just days before he was killed in action.

“Taking my 15-year-old grandson Patrick on this pilgrimage is my legacy to him. He will follow too, in his great-great uncle’s footsteps and be completely immersed in the Anzac story of these young men off, on what they first saw as an adventure until the reality of warfare became their everyday existence.

“Patrick is just two years younger than Sam was when he enlisted and will have the opportunity to completely understand both his ancestor’s journey and Australia’s role in ‘The war to end all wars’. I have given Patrick replicas of Sam’s war medals which Patrick will wear on Anzac Day and will take them to the grave to show Sam what he earned for his country and his family so that Sam knows he is remembered even 107 years after his death.

“It is an absolute joy for me to share this pilgrimage with my grandson who will have this memory for his lifetime.”

Monica Leach postcard – a kiss from France

Gallipoli battlefield pilgrims

Brian, Ellen and Andrew Fitzpatrick are a family travelling together in commemoration of three Anzac relatives, Brian’s grandfather Joseph Patrick Fitzpatrick, great uncle Michael Fitzpatrick and great uncle Charles Patrick Fitzpatrick.

On their 9-day Anzac Day at Gallipoli tour, they are focused on uncovering the story of Joseph who served at Gallipoli and returned home. Their connection continues on the Western Front, where Michael and Charles served – and where Charles lies buried, after succumbing to disease in June 1916.

Cameron and Angela are following in the footsteps of Cameron’s grandfather Sergeant Robert C.P Brett, who was part of the 25th Battalion serving at Gallipoli.

Anthony Whyte is looking forward to paying respects to his great uncle, Spensley John Hintze, who served in the 5th Infantry Battalion at Gallipoli and gave the ultimate sacrifice, and who is buried at Lone Pine Cemetery.

Gallipoli Beach Cemetary

Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours has launched its 2024 Anzac Day tours HERE

Planning 2024 Anzac Day tours

Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours’ 2024 Anzac Day itineraries include special commemorative tours of the Western Front, Gallipoli, and Hellfire-Pass Thailand, with a special 4-day Anzac Day in Ypres tour also being offered, which includes a Dawn Ceremony alongside local townspeople at Polygon Wood in Flanders.

“Walking the ground where the Anzac legend was born, where loved ones fought and fell, is an important way to connect with our war-time history, to bring the soldiers’ experience to life and to honour those who served,” said Mat McLachlan.

Tours include accommodation in the heart of the battlefields together with exclusive extra visits not offered by any other company and are all led by expert historians – who can assist with researching relatives who fought in World War One on the Western Front or at Gallipoli.

To follow in the footsteps of the Anzacs from home, connect with Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours on Facebook @BattlefieldTours, tune into the BattleWalks podcast (available on all streaming platforms), or follow Mat McLachlan’s Living History YouTube channel.

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