Shameless: French Wind Power Outfit, Engie Determined to Desecrate Battlefield Graveyard

AIF, Le Verguier, France: a soldier’s well dug trench, often became his final place of rest; and to Australians, our most hallowed ground.

 

On this day, at the 11th hour, 99 years ago the guns fell silent all across the Western Front. Remembrance Day in Australia doesn’t just mark an outbreak of poppies in lapels, it marks the end of what was meant to be the War to end all Wars.

STT’s grandfathers served with the AIF in Belgium and France, and were there when the Armistice took effect. One of them, who had won a Military Medal for conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty, described how every house and vehicle flew Allied flags and how the French went wild with delight, in Paris and all across France that day.

The killing and bloodshed had stopped; battered, broken and bruised these boys were going home.

But by no means all of those who left Australia’s sunny shores would ever see it again.

Consider a country, remote from the rest of the world, barely a “Nation”, with a little over 4 million people, largely clinging to the south-eastern cities and coasts of its wide brown land, that saw some 420,000 men, from all over it, and from all walks of life – farmers, bankers, lawyers, doctors, teachers, Aboriginal stockmen, and everything in between – enlist for service in the First World War; representing 38.7 per cent of the male population aged between 18 and 44. The whole country missed them all at the time; and far too many of them were missed forever after.

Of that number, some 330,000 joined the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) and saw action overseas: at Gallipoli, in the Middle East, Belgium and France.

In France, the AIF often saw the thickest of the fighting; took the most ground, artillery and prisoners; and suffered more than their fair share of casualties: by 1918, Lieut.-General Sir John Monash had honed his skills as a commander, and those of his troops, to be without equal.

Of the more than 295,000 members of the AIF who served in France and Belgium – at places like Fromelles, the Somme, Bullecourt, Messines, Passchendaele and Villers-Bretonneux – over 46,000 lost their lives, and 132,000 were wounded. Of those who were killed in action, some 11,000 have no known grave.

villers_bretonneux_main-L

Villers-Bretonneux: to the memory of the 11,000 AIF
men who fell in France and who have no known grave.

 

For Australians, that ground is our most hallowed. The contribution made by these men was Second to None: in valour, life and limb.

In the fearless recapture of towns like Villers-Bretonneux – an action involving a counter-attack at night, without artillery support – described by those that witnessed it as “the Most Brilliant Feat of Arms in the War” – the AIF earned the enduring respect of an embattled French people who, as this sign above the playground in their school declares, will never forget what was done by so many fine young men, so far from home.

Ecole Villers Brittenaux

That battle was fought on 25 April ie Anzac Day – a fact not lost on the AIF men who lined up in the dark that night outside the village which had been captured and all but destroyed by the Germans. The scene is described poignantly in Ross McMullin’s Pompey Elliott (Scribe 2008). Pompey Elliot was a bullish but brilliant Brigade commander, whose exuberant character instilled endless drive and valour in his men:

It was a complicated manoeuvre, especially in the dark, but Pompey’s men hurried forward to make up for lost time. They were ‘tugging and straining at the leash’, Scanlan noted. Keeping direction in the misty blackness was relatively straightforward, particularly for the 59th companies on the right, thanks to the blazing buildings in Villers-Brettoneux which had been set alight by ancillary shellfire. Silent and resolute, Pompey Elliott’s soldiers proceeded up the slope, taut with anticipation, excitement, and dread. Who would be the unlucky ones this time? Their splendid morale and determination were reinforced by the realisation that it was the third anniversary of the original Anzac Day, and they had an opportunity to commemorate it with a special exploit. The sporadic shellfire and obstructive wire they encountered on their way forward did not deter them. They pressed on until they reached the first objective, where there was a brief pause while the leaders checked positioning and direction. …

German flares went up; one landed near moving Australians and kept burning. They stopped still as one – a tribute to their training and discipline – but a machine-gun just ahead opened up erratically. In response Young gave, ‘in a calm, easy voice’ (according to a nearby sergeant), the order to charge.

With all the pent-up nervous energy that had accumulated during this long, suspense-filled day unleashed at last, Pompey’s men sprang forward with a wild, terrifying yell. ‘That ended any further attempt at checking direction’, observed Scanlan, who described the raw spontaneous roar by his men as ‘sufficient to make the enemy’s blood run cold’. The whole line responded, the intimidating cry being taken up by the 57th men along with the 59th and the 60th to the north. They all surged forward with an exhilarating, irresistible momentum. There was a desperate hail of machine-gun and rifle fire from the Germans, but the roar alarmed them, and their shooting was generally inaccurate. Most of them were caught by surprise and overwhelmed.

An English officer, who witnessed the work done by the Australians, Neville Lyton wrote:

the importance of Villers-Brettoneux cannot be over-estimated…. The Australians made a counter-attack at night which was completely successful … one of the most outstanding manoeuvres of the war. … the battlefield discipline of the Australians must be absolutely perfect, no matter what their billet discipline may be… Even if the Australians had achieved nothing else during this war but the recapture of Villers-Brettoneux, they would have won the right to be considered among the greatest fighting races of the world.

Little wonder that Australians hold sacred what was done for Villers-Brettoneux and little wonder that its people hold Australians in such high esteem a Century on. And rightly so.

Not only did Australian Diggers save many a French Town and Village, as they waited for the scarce shipping needed to bring them home after the Armistice on 11 November 1918, many remained in France and helped to rebuild their schools; and, on their return, rallied and raised funds back home to help with that fine and noble task.

vb school

The deep ancestral connection between many Australians and those who fought to save the French, and who endured indescribable suffering in doing so, brings with it a mixture of pride in the sacrifices made, and a sense of collective grief for the tragic loss of so many promising young lives; lives of precisely the kind needed to fulfill the hopes of a young Nation.

At Bullecourt, Northern France, during two successive battles in April and May 1917 the AIF suffered horrendous casualties: in total, more than 10,000 were killed, wounded or captured (for a moving understanding of what these men suffered see this article).

Given the deep and burning sentiment Australians still hold for the thousands of young Australian men who lie buried in the fields of France, the outrage that has erupted over French wind power outfit, Engie’s plans to spear half-a-dozen giant wind turbines all over the Bullecourt battlefield – detailed below – is perfectly understandable and entirely justified.

The battlefield is literally a National Cemetery and home to the remains of some 4,000 soldiers: Australians, British and German.

For a Century that ground has been their final resting place. However, if Engie (who operate in Australia, and were previously known as GDF Suez) gets its way, a sacred graveyard will soon become a series of interconnected quarries.

Each turbine base will need to be excavated down to a depth of around 15 m to house 45 tonnes of steel reinforcing rod and close to 500 m³ of concrete. Trenches carrying cables will criss-cross the battlefield. Inevitably, human remains will be crushed and/or dragged to the surface. Outrageous doesn’t cover it. This is appalling.

Here’s the UK’s The Telegraph on the wind industry’s latest disgrace.

Fury over outrageous plan to erect wind farms on major First World War battlefield in France
The Telegraph
Harry Samuel, Jonathon Pearlman and Ben Farmer
8 November 2017

France has been criticised over an outrageous plan to build a six-turbine wind farm on a First World War battlefield where thousands of British and Australian soldiers were killed.

The proposal by French energy firm Engie Green to develop the turbines near the small farming village of Bullecourt has prompted a barrage of criticism in Australia and led to calls for the federal government to voice its objections directly to French president Emmanuel Macron.

During two battles in April and May 1917 at the village in north-east France, Australia lost more than 10,000 troops as it tried – ultimately unsuccessfully – to break the Hindenburg Line, a shortened front to which Germany had withdrawn.

It marks one of the most significant sites in Australian military history.

Nearly 9,000 British troops were killed, injured or captured. Of the tens of thousands of British, Australian and German soldiers who died there, it is believed the remains of 3,000 to 4,000 were never recovered.

German soldiers posing in a trench near Bullecourt

 

Brendan Nelson, the director of the Australian War Memorial, urged France to reconsider the development, saying it could strain ties between Australia and France.

“I would like to think a sane and sensible government, in this case on the French side, would reflect on the fact that the very important contemporary bilateral relationship not in any way be jeopardised,” Dr Nelson told ABC Radio.

The wind farm site would be situated around 600 metres from a memorial to the dead.

According to Engie Green, the location of the site was chosen to ensure “the impact to landscape and the memorial were minimal”.

“We are in regular contact with the Australian embassy,” it said.

However, one local farmer told 20 Minutes: “At the first stroke of the spade, they’ll come across bodies, that’s for sure. “How many bodies risk being crushed by the bulldozers? It’s sad, at a time of non-stop centenary ceremonies to commemorate the sacrifice of all these soldiers.”

Campbell Newman, a former state Queensland premier whose great-uncle was killed at Bullecourt, said the proposed wind farm was “an outrage gone too far”.

He said human remains were still being found on farmland in the area when he attended the centenary commemorations of the battle in April.

The body of Mr Newman’s great-uncle, Second Lieutenant Leslie Mullett, was never recovered.

King George V with the 7th Battalion Sherwood Foresters, March 1918

 

“It was his first battle ever; he was killed in action either in a trench or on the barbed wire, with the Germans throwing down artillery and machine-gunning them,” Mr Newman told The Australian. “There were descriptions later of horrific scenes of bodies hanging up on the barbed wire.”

Maxime Louage, Engie Green project leader, told la Voix du Nord: “We had lots of feedback linked to the memorial. So we moved the project to the South by several hundred metres. When you enter the site, you won’t see the wind farms contrary to what was initially planned.”

But he warned: “We can’t keep changing the project every ten days and it’s difficult to keep everyone happy.”

Dan Tehan, Australia’s veterans’ affairs minister, said he would contact his French counterpart to discuss the wind farm.

He added: “The French people, like the Australian people, understand the significance of this land and they have the utmost respect for the sacrifices made by Australian soldiers on their soil,” he said.

Australia suffered particularly heavy losses at Bullecourt because its infantry was supposed to receive cover from tanks, many of which either broke down or were destroyed.

Many Australians blamed the defeat on British planners. Jeremy Banning, a military historian, said: “It was just awful, it was an absolute disaster from its beginning to its end.

“You are throwing troops against the strongest defences that the Germans have got, with inevitable consequences.”
The Telegraph

Known for their dash, fighting flair and ‘cheek’, 46,000 never came home.

 

Australia’s Liberal/National Coalition government enjoys a reputation for being both tin-eared and flat-footed. It has known about these plans for more than two years and has done absolutely nothing to scotch them.

Tehan under fire over ‘slow reaction’ to Diggers’ burial site
The Australian
Stephen Fitzpatrick
9 November 2017

Australia will seek an explanation from France after revelations this week of plans to build massive turbines for a wind farm on the World War I battlefield of ­Bullecourt, where an unknown number of Diggers lie buried.

But assurances by Veterans Affairs Minister Dan Tehan that he would be “getting clarification on the matter” came under fire from family members of the dead Australians, who asked why it had taken so long to react to the plan.

Global energy giant Engie, which has a large presence in Australia including owning the Hazelwood coal-fired power plant in Victoria, plans to build the facility on the small patch of ground where 10,000 Australians lost their lives during two battles in April and May 1917.

There are thought to be as many as 4,000 Australian, British and German dead whose bodies were never recovered from the site, including relatives of former Queensland premier Campbell Newman and Adelaide filmmaker Ash Starkey.

Mr Newman sounded the alarm this week, calling the plan “an outrage gone too far”.

Mr Starkey yesterday queried why it had taken a public outcry for the government to act.

“It does make me wonder why he (Mr Tehan) hasn’t been more proactive,” said Starkey, whose great-great uncle Valentine Starkey was killed in the second of the two battles.

“I’m not expecting minister Tehan to go and tell the French what to do with their own land, but I certainly hoped he would’ve made the decision-makers well aware that the planned installation of these turbines on the ­Bullecourt fields is going to greatly upset hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Australian families who consider the area to be a cemetery.

“Some even consider the site to have a sacred significance.

“It’s both perplexing and very disappointing that he’s taken this long to make representation.”

Mr Starkey said he had only in recent years learned details of his relative’s fate at Bullecourt, a discovery that his 98-year-old grandfather Valentine — named for the war hero — had been “over the moon” with.

Mr Tehan said he would be “trying to get an understanding” in talks with his French counterpart but said it was a problem that the wind-farm project had been “on again, off again, on again, off again”.

There is significant local opposition to the farm’s six wind turbines being located where they are planned, with mayor Gerard Crutel reportedly saying he would support it only if the ­location were moved.

“I’ve met with the mayor previously. The mayor has come out and said that he has concerns previously, so I’ll be trying to get a sense from the mayor as to what is going on, then we’ll take it from there,” Mr Tehan said on Sky News yesterday.

“But I think in the first instance let’s just get all the facts as they currently stand at the ­moment as to what is proposed, whether there is a likelihood of it going on, and then we’ll be able to take it from there.”

Mr Starkey said there was still a chance to influence the ­approval process, with a series of town meetings and an online petition gathering material for the relevant French authority to consider.

“Bullecourt is one of the most important place names in AIF history,” he said.

“The two great battles fought here in 1917 were among the most ferocious ever endured by ­Australian troops … and even though they shook the faith of the Australians in their British ­commanders, this was their last attack of the war where the ­objectives were unimportant or the planning so inadequate.”

Engie has been approached for comment.
The Australian

STT notes the heart-felt pleas made to Dan Tehan to intervene on behalf of those Australians who hold dear the memory of what was achieved, and what was lost, in the fields of France a Century ago.

Tehan is one of very few Liberals who has publicly supported the disgrace that is the wind industry in Australia. His pathetic and belated response is no surprise to STT.

Hopefully, despite Tehan’s lack of drive and leadership, common sense and decency will prevail. But don’t count on it. This is, after all, an industry that operates without mercy or shame wherever it plies its subsidy-soaked trade.

What is proposed by Engie at Bullecourt is an appalling act which can only be described as a monstrous affront to both the Australians who fought and died there; and to the French people, who still honour them on that sacred ground.

If we didn’t know the wind industry better, STT would be shocked. But these people know no bounds, moral decency or shame. This outrage is just the latest example of their callous disregard for their human victims; whether trying to live peaceful prosperous lives; or, having made the supreme sacrifice, to rest in peace.

May the 11,000 Australians with no known graves rest in peace forever.

About stopthesethings

We are a group of citizens concerned about the rapid spread of industrial wind power generation installations across Australia.

Comments

  1. Mr Tehan should not rely on the French Junior Minister of the armed forces to represent Australia’s views. He should write his own formal submission on behalf of the Western District and country he represents, requesting this wind farm is stopped and specifically the reasons why. Our fallen soldiers and sacrificed relatives must remain being shown the respect and honour they deserve and be allowed to rest undisturbed. The company says the turbines won’t be seen but there will surely be no peace within ten kilometres of the site.
    Then he should turn his attention to the residents near wind farms whom he has not supported and act to protect our rights to a nuisance free existence to ‘reassure and comfort’ those of us being disturbed by wind turbine emissions at Cape Bridgewater, Macarthur, Waubra, Stockyard Hill and the many, many other wind farms in his electorate.

  2. NOURISSON Daniel says:

    French, Australians and all peoples are in the same boat. The Wind Industry uses the same methods everywhere in the World. Be sure to target the right enemy.

  3. Sonia Trist says:

    Whilst in Australia, subsequent generations will not march in our memory, surrounded by fields of concrete cabling, collapsed towers and fragmenting fibre glass blades.
    We have sanctioned layers of industrial graffiti across rural
    Australia.
    What a monument to progress in a young country.

  4. One can only hope that Dan Tehan shows more respect for Australia's war dead than he did in his pathetic efforts to protect the health and well being of rural residents in his own western Victorian electorate of Wannon when it came to the depredations of  industrial wind.

    • Dan Tehan is hopelessly compromised and not a leader’s bootlace. If our boys at Bullecourt get to rest in peace, we doubt it will have anything to do with Tehan. Such a disappointment.

  5. Well, if they get approval to build on an aboriginal sacred site surely there is no stopping them until the country is in ruins economically, environmentally and socially.

    Once they have a foot in the door has any country managed to rid themselves of this industry?

    A Danish judge who had just retired said the wind industry was the most corrupting industry ever created. All levels of government are affected and important areas of banking and finance. Almost every nation is vulnerable.

    It will be interesting to see how Trump goes. He has extricated the US from the Paris climate agreement but from STT posts it seems nothing has really changed. The state’s are still going ahead with new wind farms, people protest and get steamrolled. Trump may just end up another casualty of the madness of climatechange and the destructive industries that exist because of it.

  6. Terry Conn says:

    Congratulations (once again) to STT for this excellent post, so well constructed and capturing the essence of Remembrance Day and its significance in the ethos that produced modern Australia – it is very telling that the new religion of ‘climate change’ that has spawned the fantasy that building wind turbines anywhere any place at any time in an attempt to satisfy the climate change god now overrides every bit of common decency in respecting our past – it is no surprise Dan Tehan and the current ‘Turnbull coalition’ have shown lukewarm effort about stopping the abomination at Bullecourt and they have known about this for two years (about the time Turnbull knifed Abbott). It is no surprise because this government and every other government in this nation all now sing from the same cultist song sheet. When will these towers of Babylon finally be struck down forever.

  7. It seems there is no stopping these things. France runs on nuclear power, why bother with a single turbine or solar panel? And yet the French government allows a wind farm on what is the final resting place of young men from foreign lands who died while playing their part in the liberation of France. Will the Australian government allow Engie to build a wind farm wherever they like – on an Aboriginal sacred site? Of course not, but the French have no such qualms.

  8. soldier settler says:

    My grandfather fought at Bullecourt and returned home in 1919 to take up the soldier settlement block we still farm 98 years later. Now RES Australia are gearing up to drive us and our neighbours mad with their proposed Twin Creek wind farm on the northern edge of the Barossa Valley, just like RES UK have done to neighbours at Den Brook wind farm in the UK.
    BTY turbine model for Den Brook WF (UK) and Waterloo WF (SA) ………. both Vestas V90.
    ENGIE and RES – both morally bankrupt.

  9. The Frogs are frogs and will never do anything beyond their consummate self..interest.
    We bailed them out over two World Wars, and what do we get in return? Take, take, take …..

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