The budget might be tight but the government is considering funding a new centre in France to better explain Australia’s role in the final victories of World War I.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott says perhaps this period more than any other was when Australians most shaped world history.
While Gallipoli was a magnificent defeat, the Western Front was a terrible victory, Mr Abbott told a CEW Bean Foundation dinner at the Australian War Memorial on Tuesday.
Mr Abbott said historian Robin Prior had observed that these final battles were the only occasion when Australian troops fought the main enemy on the main battlefield and made an appreciable difference to the outcome.
Between March and November 1918, the five Australian divisions fought as a single united corps commanded by General John Monash.
Mr Abbott said the Australians were less than 10 per cent of the British empire forces but achieved almost a quarter of all the gains in the war’s final months.
He says the government is considering creating a new “interpretive centre” next to the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux in France as a lasting tribute to General Monash and his men.
Mr Abbott said Gallipoli was Australia’s “baptism of fire”, akin to what the War of Independence was to the US, which shaped the nation’s thinking about the Great War, but when all was said and done, it was a defeat.
“There may be more lessons in defeat than in victory. Still, we should remember our victories at least as much as our defeats,” he said.
Charles (CEW) Bean was Australia’s official war correspondent, serving alongside troops. He edited the official history series and was the driving force behind creation of the Australian War Memorial.