The burial site of thousands of World War I soldiers is to remain undisturbed after a multinational company cancelled its plan to build a wind farm in northern France.
Some 10,000 Australians were killed or injured in 1917 in the two battles of Bullecourt, and more than 2.000 of them have no known grave.
The decision to shelve the project came after lobbying from families and officials in Australia and France.
Ashley Starkey, the great-great nephew of Valentine Starkey, a digger from Mangrove Creek in New South Wales, said they were relieved by the news.
“It’s just heart warming that a small group of us from Australia and France were able to work to turn the tide against this – and it happened very quickly too,” he said.
“So it’s just a sense of relief and [we’re] just happy that it hasn’t gone ahead.”
Valentine Starkey was 23-years-old when he was killed in the second battle of Bullecourt in 1917.
“I got pretty close in discovering where he was killed – it was on one of the last days of the second battle,” Mr Starkey said.
“His body still remains in that ground around with close to 2,500 other Australians, plus German soldiers, British and Scottish.”
Mr Starkey said the campaign to stop the wind farm had strong support from Bullecourt locals.
“There are a number of people there that help Australians find where their ancestors were killed, they’ll take you around the battlefield,” he said.
“They’re not paid people, they’re doing it out of the goodness of their hearts.”
Mr Starkey said a number of town meetings had been carried out to gauge the local response to the proposal.
But he said many of the locals had already been campaigning for at least a year on their behalf.
“They’ve had petitions, even the mayor of the local area … was against this,” he said.
“They’re not against wind farms, and neither am I, they just didn’t want them on this specific battlefield.”
The wind farm proponent ENGIE said it decided to cancel the project out of respect to the memory of the Australian soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice on French soil during World War I.
The company said that although the site’s history was respected from the start, it was anxious to alleviate the fears of all those who remember the fallen.
The support has been ‘humbling’
Veterans’ Affairs Minister Dan Tehan said the battles of Bullecourt were tragic and largely futile, but saw Australia demand a greater say in the way its troops were deployed.
He said the company’s decision had been welcomed both in Australia and in France.
“I spoke to the French Veterans’ Affairs Minister and she expressed her concern for the diggers and referred to the diggers whose remains would be there in the soil in Bullecourt,” he said.
“She made a public submission to the inquiry on behalf of Australia, the French ambassador here in Australia spoke to the company, and the company has listened.
“I take my hat off to the company for being prepared to change their minds.”
Mr Tehan said he was certain that going into the future, any further developments on the Western Front would be carried through in a “dignified and understanding way”.
“The way that the French people express their thanks to Australia for what we did 100 years ago I think is extraordinary,” he said.
“It’s been incredibly humbling for me in making representations on this issue the feedback that I’ve got from the French government and the French people about how they will never forget.
“I think we will see once again for the next century French people recognise the contribution that Australians have made on their behalf so that they can enjoy the freedoms and the liberties that they do.”
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