Local Army Reservist to visit WWI battle sites

Sgt Jason Verschelden.
Sgt Jason Verschelden.

A LOCAL sergeant will be one of 14 West Australian Army Reserve soldiers to represent the country in Belgium and France this week for the centenary commemoration of the WWI battles of Fromelles and Pozieres.

Australia’s most significant achievements in The Great War were fought in the Western Front battles.

But, solemnly, the Australian contribution also proved the most deadly for the nation’s diggers.

War historian Peter Fitzsimons, in a comment piece for the Sydney Morning Herald, recently labelled the beginning of the Battle of Fromelles as “the most appalling night in Australian history”.

He said 1900 Australians were killed with close to 7000 more slaughtered in the six-week Battle of Pozieres that followed.

Sergeant Jason Verschelden, of Banksia Grove, will honour the sacrifices made by those thousands of soldiers in a week-long schedule of events beginning Thursday in Paris.

Sgt Verschelden’s 16th Battalion holds an important link to the two World Wars as one of WA’s most iconic infantries.

The 16th Battalion was awarded the Battle Honour for its efforts in Pozieres, a small village in the Somme valley of France. Australian soldiers captured the village on July 23, 1916, defending it against repeated German counter-attacks and continuous artillery fire.

“We in 16th Battalion are the Army’s historical link to Gallipoli, the Western Front, and Kokoda and we continue that tradition of service today,” Sgt Verschelden said.

“I have studied the battles on the Western Front, yet I still find it hard to imagine what it would have been like for the soldiers involved.

“Now I will get to see and walk the ground they fought on – it will be an amazing experience.”

Sgt Verschelden said he could not believe he was chosen to attend the commemoration, labelling it one of the biggest honours in his 25-year military career.

He was formerly a member of the primary Army service, serving in Somalia, East Timor and the Soloman Islands.