‘Lest We Forget’

Robinvale Villers-Bretonneux Association

Villers-Bretonneux Proclamation

Villers-Bretonneux delegation visits Robinvale 2015

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Whereas Australian France have common interests in the promotion of peace and prosperity in the world.

Whereas Villers-Bretonneux and Robinvale have common interests in the development of a close affiliation within these two countries.

Whereas Villers-Bretonneux and Robinvale are a closely connected due to the great war especially with respect to Flight Lieutenant Robin Cuttle, who died in an air crash near Villers-Bretonneux and after whom Robinvale was named and the young Australians of the 59th Battalion A.I.F. 15th Brigade who fought so courageously to gain liberation of Villers-Bretonneux.

Whereas Villers-Bretonneux and Robinvale have a common interest in that Robinvale is a soldier settlement area with many of the sons of World War I veterans settling in the area.

Whereas, the Government and the school children of the state of Victoria have already contributed to the friendship and mutual appreciation of the children of  Villers-Bretonneux by providing funds for a school building.

Whereas the citizens of Villers-Bretonneux and Robinvale have an understanding of the relationship which is necessary to continue to develop a cordial friendship through cultural, economic and social exchanges.

Whereas Villers-Bretonneux and Robinvale already understand the meaning of peace and trust and this affiliation will continue to remind not only Whereas Villers-Bretonneux and Robinvale, but our respective nations that such an understanding is necessary for the peace of the world and mankind.

Now, therefore be it resolved that the towns of Villers-Bretonneux and Robinvale formally establish this affiliation and relationship for attainment of the aspirations of mankind and as an enduring moment of our affiliation.

Also, that this document be placed on a permanent display signifying this solemn decision.

Dr. Hurbert Lelier
Maire de Villers-Bretonneux

Cr. W. F. McGinty, J.P.
Mayor of Robinvale

The formation of the Villers-Bretonneux Association

By Len Arnott – 2009

A young man named Robin Cuttle, who help of his family purchased a property just outside Robinvale in 1912, before going to the war. He won a Military Cross in the army, before transferring to the Air Force, and was killed near the township of Caix, not far away from Villers-Bretonneux in 1918. A Mr. Carrington and his three sons were overseers of a property named “Bumbang Station” and the boys also were also killed.

The Cuttle family purchased the Station property, with the intention of surveying the area to create a town, which they did in 1924. The name Robinvale is in remembrance of Robin. The town square is named Caix Square, a street Warlen Avenue, records where he won the M.C. (Butte de Warlencourt), and Malla Avenue is named after an English family that befriended him while he was on leave. Carrington Street also remembers the three boys who had worked on the property before the war.

As you are no doubt aware Melbourne “adopted” Villers-Bretonneux after the war, helping to rebuild the town. Of special not was the so called “Penny Drive”, when Victorian school children were encouraged to bring a penny to schoool, and that money plus Government and Commercial assistance rebuilt the primary school. Included in the building was a bell to call the children to class, which I will refer to later on, and most of the rooms have carvings in wood above the doorways of Australian animals.

Relationships have always been strong, especially with relatives of men who had served there. However the passage of time, the depression and World War 2 had effect, and the association to a degree deceased, especially with the younger folk. Also the size factor of Melbourne/Villers was not ideal.

In the 1970s a member of Parliament, Alan Wood and his wife Joyce visited the town in conjunction with a trip to England, and were made welcome by the Franco-Australien Association, as they did to all visiting Australians. The French groupd exprssed a concern that the young folk in France were loosing contact, and asked Alan and Joyce would it be possible to start a contact group. The Wood’s lived in Swan Hill, so they raised the matter with the Shire of that town. After discussion Robinvale were approached for the following reasons:

The Shire, R.S.L. and schools (especially St. Mary’s) took an interest, communications commenced, and the French in particular began to think about not only written contact, but also a visit. A member of the Rotary Club of Robinvale, Peter Rolins, made a private trip to France, visited the area, talked to the local Committee and became very enthusiastic. On his return he promoted the twinning generally, but specifically to the Rotary Club, who also became really keen. As a result 3 French students, and chaperones Marcel & Huguette Pillon made the trip to Australia. The Shire of Swan Hill undertook responsibility for the trip. Rotarian Col Bennett and wife Pat were the main organisers, and the French Group spent several weeks in Robinvale and other areas, visited schools, and were hosted by Rotary Club members.

The trip was that successful that a return visit to France took place a year later. Again the Shire supported the visit with Rotarian Col Bennett and his wife Pat, acting as chaperones to three students, and planning began for the official twinning of the two towns. In 1984, 18 people made the trip to Villers-Bretonneux to formalise the connection. The group included 12 people who were Rotarians and/or relatives, plus Allan and Joyce Wood, Tom and Barbara Neeman (R.S.L.) Robin Letts and wife (Newspaper). Rotarian Bill McGinty represented the Shire, Col Bennett organiser and Len &and Beryl Arnott chaperones for the two students.

The group stayed in Villers-Bretonneux for a week which included the actual signing ceremony, an official dinner, visits to the ANZAC Day ceremonies at Villers-Bretonneux and Bullecourt and tours of the battlefields in the area. The students and chaperones stayed an extra week spending much of the time at the schools, but also visiting areas of interest.

In 1985 a French party led by Marcel Pillon and Hurbert Lillier and wives, visited Robinvale for the signing, and while the Rotary Club were generally responsible for organisation, the other Services Clubs became involved, to widen the community interest. To commemorate the occasion a suitably inscribed archway was erected at Caix Square, and when the school in France replaced the bell at the school with a siren, they then brought the bell to Robinvale, and it still stands on the top of the archway.

Over a period of about 15 years one or two visits were made by French Groups, and a number of individuals from both countries made the trip. Relationships and hospitality were were, although no formal structure was in place. This changed when the present Chairperson, Pam Pisasale, who was a Shire Councillor, traveled with friends to Villers-Bretonneux. The contacts she made enthused her to form a more structured organisation, including a constitution. As a result regular visits are made by larger groups, generally each 4 years, although individuals are offered hospitality quite frequently, and communications take place on a regular basis by the respective committees.

Visits by the Robinvale group usually take place in conjunction with ANZAC Day, and involve attending the service at the Australian War Memorial, the service at the French Memorial, an official dinner, a visit to the War Museum, some touring and home hospitality. Of special interest in 2008 was the first time a dawn service was held, and two students accompanied by Robinvale group, firstly to Turkey and then to France, their travel costs being paid by donations. We have had very complimentary reports from non-Robinvale people, who were at Villers, including “if this is the standard of today’s youth, we have no problems at all, but I suspect that those young gold were specially chosen”.

When the French visit us, they love a houseboat trip on the Murray River, the wildlife, a visit to the area generally, plus of course home hospitality and the formal dinner. This year a group of senior school children visited Robinvale who are members of the “Club Australie”, a school group that regularly meet out of school hours to study Australia, especially wildlife and plants.

At an Association dinner for the occasion, we had an attendance of 150, with the guest speaker being Allan Blankfield, a noted war historian. The students were hosted by school children’s families, and spent time at the schools, thus cementing the relationship. They brought with them money collected in Villers-Bretonneux area for the Bush Fire Appeal this year, in remembrance of what Australia did for their town after 1914-18 war. A large sign is on the shelter shed at the Villers-Bretonneux school which reads “Never forget Australia”, so perhaps we should reciprocate.

4 incidents worth noting:

  1. On a visit we made we were standing in the square waiting for a bust to take on a tour. Two little old ladies walked past and said “Bonjour Australiens – Merci”.
  2. On a visit my wife and I were invited to dinner by a French couple, and our host produced a small box, and brought out a button from an Australian uniform. He said that he had found it in his garden some years before, and it was a much valued item.
  3. A man, his wife and son were walking around Villers, and the wife entered a café to buy some nibbles, but as she was about to leave her son entered wearing a t-shirt with a kangaroo printed on it. The word “Australien” was uttered, an coffee and cakes appeared, and no money would be accepted.
  4. I was told about and Australian girl whose brother had been killed, and was buried at Adelaide Cemetery. In the 1930s on a trip to England, she went to Villers to see her brother’s grave on the anniversary of his death. She was surprised to find the only grave with fresh flowers on it was her brother’s. Language was a problem with the French gardener, but he produced a pencil and paper, which when read said “On this day every year a young lady puts flowers on his grave. She used to have a young child come with her, but as she grows up she does not come very often”.

Franco-Australian Museum – Villers-Bretonneux

Villers-Bretonneux website

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