From Amiens with love

11th January 2018 1:00 PM
FRENCH CONNECTION: Journalist Willy Billiard with Amiens Historical Association president Roger Willis. FRENCH CONNECTION: Journalist Willy Billiard with Amiens Historical Association president Roger Willis. Matthew Purcell

THERE'S a well-documented link between the Granite Belt, our French connection and war history - which is only set to grow courtesy of a special visitor to our neck of the woods.

Journalist Willy Billiard, from publication Courrier Picard, spent a day driving around Amiens, Pozieres, Passchendaele and surrounds to document our many homages to our World War I history.

Mr Billiard said it wasn't until a visit to Villers Bretonneux some years ago that he truly learnt about the Anzac involvement in the French battles of World War I.

"It was at this moment that I really learnt the Australian people, Australian soldiers, came to France and fought for us, our freedom,” he said.

"How many casualties? 65,000 or something. When you see the area where they fought, you don't understand why they volunteered to come.

"It's just incredible. I felt ashamed, even at school you don't learn this (in France), they don't tell what's happened with Australian soldiers.”

Mr Billiard will recount his time in our area in a big Anzac Day publication for his newspaper.

"For Anzac Day, in April, for the 100th anniversary we'll have a special issue. The first idea is to show people in France what it looks like in Amiens, Pozieres, Bapaume in Australia.”

He said the naming of Amiens was one story that came as a surprise.

Initially Romani was floated for the village name, then Diggerville, before Amiens won out.

While only spending a solitary day in the area, Willy said he'd learnt an enormous amount about the region and the story of our soldier settlers.

"You need to be in the people's place to understand why young soldiers volunteer to go across the world... in France it's wet weather, it's grey with snow, it's raining all the time, don't speak the language and plus you are killed or injured. It's horrible,” he said.

"After the war you come here, there are big rocks, it's very hot and absolutely nothing and they say you can start a new life... I wanted to understand that.

"It's very important people (in France) know this,” he said.