"Anzac Dawn Service 2016 - Planning" Villers-Bretonneux Travelogue by pedroswift

Villers-Bretonneux Travel Guide: 13 reviews and 29 photos

Planning a do-it-yourself road trip to V-B

I've tried to make this Travelogue as comprehensive as possible aimed at first time visitors to France with intentions of a "do-it-yourself " road or rail trip. Links to relevant pages I have written or other web sources are included.
It is best viewed as part of my Personal Page on V-B so that the links (in light blue type) work with a mouse click.
The blue location bar at top of page should look like : "Europe>France > Picardie >Villers-Bretonneux > pedroswift's Villers-Bretonneux Travel Page >Travelogue" -
if you don't have it looking like that, cut and paste this URL: http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/ae2c2/14357/
which opens pedroswift's intro page (worth reading first) then scroll down the page to re-open this "Anzac Dawn Service - Planning" Travelogue.

Planning a do-it-yourself road trip to Villers-Bretonneux for Anzac Day Dawn Service in 2016??
The earlier you start planning the better. It has become a popular destination to the extent that arrangements for access to the Memorial National Australien were changed in 2013 to exclude private cars from the road in front of the Memorial. Recent access plans allowed local "shuttle buses" and Tour Buses to drop off passengers at the site and then park on the roadside. Cars driven by you and me are relegated to parking areas in Villers-Bretonneux and Corbie & Fouilloy.
The walk to the Australian National Memorial from Corbie & Fouilloy is approximately 2 km and 3.7 km from Villers-Bretonneux taking 30-60 minutes. The road is poorly lit in some areas, the surface is uneven and coaches will still be using this road. Use the designated walking/bicycle paths.
Read the descriptions of using pre-booked buses to/from regional centres. Understand the delays involved in getting 6,000 visitors to/from the Memorial.

By the way, the traffic arrangements are organised locally. Nothing to do with Australian Dept of vets Affairs.

check out the Dept of Veterans Affairs website for information - especially the 2016 traffic access plans to the Memorial site-
Download the Word File "Car Parking Locations and Recommended Walking Routes" and "traffic access" pages. Together with Google Earth views of the region, you'll get a good idea of what is involved in walking to the Memorial. Keep in mind - if you walk to the site you will be doing so in the cold & dark to arrive before 5am (0500 - the 24 hour clock is used in France!)

Preliminary info is available in the section "What to expect and how to prepare for ANZAC Day".
There is also a "Registration" site available - you will be texted if info on the event changes.

Vet's Affairs URL: http://www.dva.gov.au/commems_oawg/commemorations/commemorative_events/anzac_day/Pages/france.aspx#en

The priority given to Tour Operators has no doubt led to them pre-booking lots of accommodation in the area in anticipation of big numbers taking the "tour option" rather than drive-yourself. I know from feed back from readers of this page that in September, 2011 (6 months before ANZAC Day), Australians were having great difficulty booking accommodation in the region for the 2012 ceremony. For 2016 this will not get any better. Book as early as you can!!
Accommodation may have to be found well away from the area.
You could take the easy way out and sign up for a guided tour. There is nothing wrong with doing that and I’m sure that it would suit quite a lot of people to have Accommodation and Transport to/from the Ceremony sewn up. Having never taken that option I can not recommend any specific companies but a quick google search will reveal battlefields.com ; albatrosstours etc etc.

Shuttle Bus
The term "Shuttle Bus" is used in the advice on arrangements to get to the Memorial. Speaking to a friend who attended the 2012 ceremony I have discovered the Australian understanding of the term "shuttle" does not apply. In 2014, buses made one trip to the site only; were parked and made one trip back. So places on said buses are restricted. Very much so! Book and Pay early!!!
I say again "Early booking and payment for Shuttle Bus is required".
Never trust everything you read on the world wide web! What I write here is based on planning and executing at least a dozen road trips in France. Two of which were to the Somme (including Villers-Bretonneux). One was specifically to experience the Anzac Day Dawn Service (2010). I use all care : no responsibility. If you dispute what I write, please e-mail me with a correction. I unashamedly point you to other generic tips that I have written on travel in France on this v.t. site.
(in vt "Personal Pages" click on blue text to find linked info or if you have arrived here via the generic VT "Travel Guide" cut/paste or right click/open the URLs I have given. )
Writer is contactable via a "Comments" box in red below the Intro Page above (click on "pedroswift's Villers-Bretonneux Travel Page" in blue location bar at top of page to get there.) back to planning............

When, where, how? are the basic questions.

At least the date is fixed – April 25th.
Of course, you may not be able to visit during April to experience the Dawn Service. It's still a very moving experience to visit the Somme at other times. The advice offered here is equally applicable to visits made at other times.
IMO Christmas/ New Year is not a good time to visit.
Airlines charge a premium for tickets.
The weather is usually seriously cold and wet.
Daylight hours are reduced. (0830-1730).
How cold is cold? Average minimum 3º Centigrade : average max 7ºC
but days with a maximum temperature of minus 3ºC & a Minimum temp minus 12ºC are experienced.....that IS .....seriously COLD.
Even in late April, conditions can be very cold. I was embarrassed to be an Australian watching some of the people at the 2008 Anzac Dawn Service being interviewed on TV. People were dressed for a visit to Bondi Beach. They were obviously stressed by the cold. They should have been excluded from attending a place and ceremony where “respect” is the operative word dressed like yobbos.
Take warm clothes! beanie, scarf, gloves, warm socks, sensible foot wear. Rain is highly probable : folding umbrella & rain-proof jacket with hood a minimum.(It rained during the 2014 Ceremony).
Feedback from Australians who had read this advice before attending the Service in 2012, without heeding the last paragraph!... "Pedro, we froze our butts off! It was the coldest we have ever been! And it rained! Wish we had taken the gloves, beanies, umbrellas, wet-weather jackets & pants plus waterproof boots like you said we should!!"

By the way, the Dawn Service is now telecast live to Australia.

Please resist the temptation to attend the service draped in Australia's national flag. This is an absolute no-no and shows total disrespect for the flag and what it stands for. If you feel obliged to mark yourself as an Australian (totally unnecessary I.M.O.), by all means do so with some green and gold, not the flag of our great nation.
I keep thinking of the thousands of Australian volunteer servicemen whose names are listed on the walls of the Memorial who lie in unmarked graves. They surely deserved to have been interred under the flag of their homeland - Australia. Would they have condoned the trivialisation of the Australian Flag by later generations wearing it as an article of clothing??

How? Transport

How long total is your road trip?
If more than 19 days, leasing a car may be an option. Planning a fortnight? You may wish to add a few days to enable car leasing. Why a leased car? Read the transport tips available here.
Read the tips on insurance, “mandatory equipment” in France and on purchasing fuel on the same page. Read tips listed at the bottom of the page “Warnings or Dangers” - “Security on Road Trips in France”.(There were cars broken into at the Dawn Service in 2009 & at other memorials in the region since then).URL:http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/p/m/19f3d5/
Otherwise it’s a hire car.
We have always dealt with Driveaway Holidays in Sydney - both hire and lease of vehicle. We have never been able to hire a car directly from the major companies in France any cheaper than booking/paying in advance through Driveaway. When hiring, we also pre-pay a flat price to them to reduce the insurance excess liability to zero instead of a per day price charged by the hire companies which near doubles the cost of the hire.
Get an International Drivers Permit from your state Automobile Association (about 30 dollars) and , if your companion wishes to drive the car, make sure he /she has one also ! There are good reasons to get an IDP without actually driving.

Collecting your vehicle from the airport.
We usually begin our French road trips by collecting the vehicle from Charles De Gaulle Airport, Paris ( “Aéroport Roissy” when you key it into web based trip planners). This avoids having to use trains , buses or taxis upon arrival. There is an extra charge included in the hire charges (local tax ) to pick up car from airport. Extra hassles to go by public transport to some place off the airport are not warranted.
Leasing a car? Having advised of your arrival on a courtesy phone in the terminal, you may be picked up at CDG by shuttle & relocated off-aerodrome anyway. I prefer that option.
Hiring a car? Alternatively, one finds the hire-car parked in the hire car zone of a high-rise parking station attached to a terminal and the first challenge to be faced is to drive (on the right) around the spiral exit ramps to join the airport traffic and start the navigation process. At least have a map of the terminal you are using and one of the airport layout. Download from :http://www.aeroportsdeparis.fr/ADP/en-GB/Passagers/Access-maps-car-parks/Paris-CDG/maps/
This car pick-up advice does not apply if you intend spending time in Paris at the start of your trip. A car is too much of an expense to park : not to mention the hassle of driving in the city. Pick up the hire/leased car after the Paris sojourn.
note well Leased cars are supplied with minimum of fuel. For peace of mind, it may be wise to get directions to the closest service station from the man giving you the vehicle!!!! Hire cars will probably have a full tank & car is returned with tank full.
One option is to catch a train from Paris to Amiens and collect a car there or if not visiting Paris there is a TGV service to Lille from CDG airport. There is a TGV station closer to Amiens (40kms) but it is out in the countryside and I have no idea if hired or leased cars are available there.(Gare TGV Haute-Picardy approx Latitude/Longitude - 49º51'33.00"N : 02º49'51.00"E ). see some advice on train timetables and on-line booking in my generic tips in the France "Transport" section. Keep in mind that promotional fares "prems" can save you heaps of money if purchased well in advance.
Bus (bus is called "cars" or "autocars" in France) . Have not used public transport in this Region myself but bus timetables in Picardy : http://www.trans80.fr/horaire.html#
Note: a lot of "local bus lines in rural France are orientated towards school children & there may be no services on some lines outside School start and finish times.

Car Pickup & Return

Our preference is to spend time in Paris at the end of our holiday.
We usually drop the car at a regional city in France somewhere. Through Driveaway, major lease companies have no drop off fees at towns with an agent selling the brand of car (or agent for hire cars).We get a train to Paris after exploring that regional city without the car. eg in 2010, we took the train from Epernay in Champagne Region to Paris for our last three nights before heading home. In 2014, we used a hire car from CDG for 8 days and dropped off at Lille to catch a train to Bruges.
Paris to CDG or CDG to Paris: At the end of the Paris visit, we get to CDG to fly home using a shuttle service arranged by the hotel or by taxi. see transport tip on my Paris page re how much time it takes to get a shuttle bus to CDG.
Train is possible but usually involves walking up/down stairs in the Metro with luggage. Only ever caught the train from CDG to Chalelet then metro to closest station to our hotel once. I learnt the hard way that Chatelet is a vast underground web of walking tunnels linking the various metro lines. also...
There is a definite security risk also if one does not catch the express train service to/from Paris-CDG. see Warning in Tips at bottom of my Paris page.
also The US State Department has warnings worth reading...(reiterates the one about non express Paris airport train). URLs: http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/ae2c2/18308/8/#2012911 & http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1116.html
Bus is probably the better public transport option but we have never tried it. See bus details URL: http://www.parisescapes.com/paris_cdg_to_paris_bus.html
If Paris and/or other major cities are not in the itinerary, Pick-up and Drop-off vehicle at CDG is an option!

Where? Route Planning

We use our paper maps to do planning as well as the web based route planners: http://www.viamichelin.com/ and
Google Earth is a great aid as well. Down load and print large scale Google Maps of Villers and the area around your hotel(s).
Paper Maps
We have a “whole of France” Michelin map (number 721 - 1 cm = 10 kms) for general planning. It has major locations in an index plus time and distance table between the major cities. The major pay-to-use motorways and no-pay highways are marked.
Regions of France are covered by individual Michelin 1cm=2Kms paper maps.
#237 covers the North West (Somme)
#514 Ile-de-France (Paris and environs).
We own a Michelin Road Atlas covering all of France in detail (1cm = 2kms). However, it weighs 1.6 kgs. That is 10% of my self-imposed check-in baggage weight (15kgs). We usually take a couple of the regional maps at a tenth of the weight. I'm big on keeping weight down. You may be interested in pedroswift's packing tips. URL: http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/tt/838d1/#TL
The motorway system is the way to cover kms quickly but it does cost. Motorways are marked yellow with red edges on Michelin maps & are "E" or "A" followed by the motorway number.
The bigger national roads (non-motorway) are red on the map and named "D" with a number. Even the lesser roads are sealed and marked in yellow.
On-line Route Planners will tell you how much motorway tolls costs. They usually give a choice of “quickest”or "preferred" route or “most scenic”/"most economical" route.
The more scenic will be slower on "D" roads (no pay stations but through villages). By the way, we use cash at the pay stations preferring to select a manned pay booth. I have never tried a credit card in the auto pay machines. Australian credit cards don’t work in other public transport machines (Metro for example) so I’m reluctant to risk losing it.


So far, we have used GPS in France infrequently.
I believe that many followers of GPS instructions will come back from their holidays not really knowing where they have been. Getting involved in the navigation using paper maps at least drills a few place names into your memory banks. If your right-hand man or woman cannot navigate, I guess a GPS is the answer. Be aware of the fact some GPS instructions are not 100% correct. In May 2012, our brand new leased car had been programmed with the latest GPS upgrade. We found that there were numerous irregularities especially road junctions that had been converted to roundabouts.
What ever you do, don't use "the shortest route" option with a GPS while driving in rural France. Chances are you will be led off major roads into small villages or farmers' paddocks!!
Be aware of the multiple similar (or exactly the same) place names in France. Punch the correct destination into your GPS or suffer!! read review on my "France" Page - Confusing Duplicate Place Names
Good Advice in the Photo - no similar warnings in France at Road Works (in our experience).

Where? Accommodation.

Keep in mind that Villers-Bretonneux is a rural French village without major services for a simultaneous influx of thousands of tourists.
Overnight accommodation will not be available in the village. Plan to stay in larger towns in the Somme. Given that the dawn service starts at 0530; that traffic congestion will increase travel time to the site & that time to walk from eventual parking spot to the memorial could be an hour or more, it is logical to book accommodation for at least the night before the service (perhaps several nights ).

We tend to use chain hotel/motels when in France and elsewhere in Europe. For an explanation of why URL: http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/ae2c2/1c/3/#1699744
Normally, we tend not to pre-book accommodation when on the road so as to be totally flexible.
However, for a specific event like ANZAC Day Dawn Service , we thought it worth while in 2010 to secure accommodation months in advance seeing thousands of Australians would be in the area. 3,500 according to this report. (seating for 4,000 is provided on site).

In 2010, we booked our first night in the region at Compiegne to be close to the Clairiere de L’Armistice to visit the replica of the railway carriage used for the signing of the Armistice in WWI (closed Tuesdays by the way). URL: http://www.webmatters.net/france/ww1_rethondes_2.htm

After studying the traffic arrangements for the Dawn Service and down loading a map of the one way roads, we chose Albert as our base for the visit and booked two nights prior to the service at the Ibis Hotel Albert.
Map of one-way roads becomes available a month or two before the event. Use the www.dva.gov.au website link under "Do your Homework" at top of this page.

Activity around Villers-Bretonneux

Note: May 2015. My description below will not be current in 2016 with changes to parking for private cars. Time may have to be spent pre-checking the parking area for private cars if you opt to walk to the site. A drive down the D23 past the memorial will have to occur well before 1400 on the day before ANZAC Day (24th) prior to the 24 hour road closure to private cars.
Albert may still be a viable place to stay as shuttle buses will run from there to the site.
Book and pay early.

In 2010, Anzac Day was on Sunday the 25th. (Monday in 2016)
We booked our hotel for the Friday and the Saturday night. This gave us the opportunity to drive, on Friday during daylight, from Albert to the Australian Memorial along the route we would have to take at 3am on the Sunday.
On the Friday, after checking into Ibis Albert, we drove to Villers-Bretonneux along the route past the Memorial and visited the tourist office in town to double-check the arrangements for Sunday and to visit the Musee Australien at Victoria School. We checked out the recently refurbished Australian Corps Memorial at Le Hamel on the way back to Albert.
In 2015, there was an "Information Booth" on site at the Memorial prior to the road closure.Probably similar in '16.

On Saturday 24th, we drove to Peronne to visit the Museum. We visited Poziers to check out the Aust 1st Div Memorial. Back in Albert, we visited the Basilica and booked into the restaurant at the Logis de France Hotel Basilique across the road for diner. Thirsty after all the driving, we had a beer or three at Corner’s Pub just up the road. We chose half litre Hoegaarden Wheat Beer (€5) to slake the thirst. Meals and snacks are served so we will spend more time there next visit. (note: went back for more beer and food in 2014).
Note French Legal Limit for blood alcohol content is the same as Australia : 0.05%. "Nominated driver" should abstain. French Police can be quite active doing random breathe checks. I've been stopped three times in the course of a week during one road trip. N.B. - France introduces a new law - from July 1 2012 Every Automobile must be equipped with a breathalyser(s) to check blood alcohol reading of driver (Anecdotal advice is the rule is not being forced - but who knows??)
The Somme Trench Museum is accessed by the Basilica but we elected to visit in 2014.

Dawn Service

Timing of the Dawn Service:
3.30 am: site opens
5.15 am: latest time by which public are advised to arrive
5.30 am: Dawn Service commences

The order of service includes laying of floral tributes after the speeches. First by official parties but later by private individuals wishing to pay tribute to relatives. You may wish to do so. This will require preparation in advance ie purchase of wreath etc .
At a time other than the service, one way to commemorate a relative is to photograph a memorial inscription (or headstone in one of the many cemeteries). read tip on taking poppies. URL: http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/p/m/214d8e/

Ancient History: 2010 - We were up at 3am on the Sunday to follow the one way route to the memorial which was well sign-posted with plenty of police/military personnel to indicate the way. We parked on the edge of the road 100 metres past the memorial. By the time the ceremony started, both sides of the road were full of parked cars all the way to Viller-B, 1.6 kms away. See photo 3 at : http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/tp/177bc6/
So if you or your party have mobility problems, check the DVA website for arrangements. By the way, there is a walk of about two hundred metres from the road to the memorial up a slight rise.
We had not checked out of our hotel so as to have no luggage in the vehicle while parked. See security reference above. After the ceremony, we were able to return to Ibis Hotel Albert for breakfast before packing and checking out.
(re 2016:if the car parking arrangements are the same as 2015 - I'd definitely have no valuables in the car if I chose the "walk-to-the-site" option!!!)

We did not participate in the other ceremonies being held on the 25th in V-B and other places. There is a week of Australian celebrations held in V-B. You may wish to get involved in them. check out the Vets Affairs web site."other associated events and activities".

Our next couple of nights were spent in the Champagne Region - a visit without any battlefield encounters. That’s not to say we have never sought them before. You may wish to check “Things to Do” tips on my vt pages on Reims and Chateau Thierry for references.
and pedroswift on Champagne
URLs : http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/ae2c2/175e5/ (Reims)
http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/ae2c2/1fb8b/ (Chateau Thierry)
http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/ae2c2/29/ (Champagne)

More Sources of Information

Had this trip to the Somme been our first we would have visited Amiens first. The Tourist Office there is well set up for Australian tourists and has a wealth of information available.
The Comite du Tourisme de la Somme publishes several maps and guides of the Battlefields as well as Regional Tourism Guides to help you enjoy the region as a whole. An audio guide is available for a circuit of discovery.

Don’t neglect the regional cuisine, the gardens, the market days, the nature trails and the art and history of the region. The “significant other person” in your life may well appreciate a break from Battlefield orientated activities so research these aspects before you leave home as well.

opens the tourist office web site at the Somme Battlefields page. Check out the other pages as well - for example, "PLAN YOUR TRIP" on the menu bar has accommodation options.
URL: http://www.visit-somme.com/somme_tourisme/decouvrez/grande_guerre
opens at a page in English with details of some guided tours of Battlefields that are available. Their itineraries work so provide a starting point for planning a do-it-yourself tour. Other pages may inspire you to discover more about the region (including Champagne).

Other sites we have visited prior to 2010:
In or near Villers-Bretonneux :- Adelaide Cemetery (see the link with The Australian War Memorial, Canberra), Peronne, Mont St Quentin (Aust 2nd Division Memorial), Amiens, Arras, Gueudecourt (Newfoundlanders Memorial), Givenchy-en-Gohelle (Canadian National Memorial - Vimy).
Further north & west : Dunkuque Beach (WW2 evacuation)
In Belgium:- Ypres (Menin Gate and Flanders Field Museum). Bruges for the break from battlefields. Waterloo : a battlefield from another period of history.

I mentioned Hoegaarden Beer above. If you wish to combine WWI battlefield visits with another activity, then maybe a beer tasting journey into Belgium with a "nominated driver" is a possibility. There are hundred of beers to taste Don't drink and drive - see comment above.
URL: http://www.visitbelgium.com/?page=beer-lovers
As part of your preparation to visit France, you may wish to read my France intro page and the generic tips below it especially if it is a first visit to France. see travelogues at bottom of "France Intro" - "Driving in France" , "Maps" & some stuff on "Parking" signs.
URL: http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/ae2c2/1c/
consult pedro's French Reading List for some interesting titles could turn you into a Francophile!! URL: http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/tt/91b08/
(Definition of FRANCOPHILE: "markedly friendly to France or French culture") Way to go!!

Bonne Chance!!

  • Page Updated May 9, 2016
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