The efforts of Australian General John Monash on the Western Front in World War I should be as widely recognised as the story of Simpson and his donkey at Gallipoli, Prime Minister Tony Abbott says.
Mr Abbott revealed on Saturday a new memorial centre to be built in France would be named in honour of the Australian military leader, who is regarded as one of the great tacticians of World War I.
After joining world leaders at D-Day commemorations in Normandy on Friday, Mr Abbott turned his attention to the First World War as he visited the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux for the first time.
While not as famous as the Gallipoli campaign, the efforts of Australian diggers to stop German forces on the Western Front were critical to the outcome of the war.
Of the 295,000 Australians who fought there between 1916 and 1918, 46,000 never made it home and the prime minister is leading a push he believes will help improve a sense of national identity.
“No place on earth has been more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than these fields in France,” Mr Abbott said.
“Australians should be as familiar with the story of the Western Front as we are with Gallipoli.
“Australians should be at least as familiar with the achievements of Monash as we are with the heroism of John Simpson Kirkpatrick (in Gallipoli).”
Sir John Monash was involved in the failed Gallipoli campaign but used his experiences to lead several significant battlefield victories, including the decisive Battle of Amiens.
Mr Abbott said he brought organisation and technology to the battlefield to “break the stalemate of trench warfare”.
Attendances at the annual Anzac Day dawn service at Villers-Bretonneux have grown steadily in recent years, with the crowd this year surpassing that at Gallipoli.
Some predict it will become the nation’s clear focal point of Anzac Day commemorations beyond next year’s centenary in Gallipoli.
“Australians should congregate here, every April 25th, no less than at Anzac Cove,” Mr Abbott said.
“And on Anzac Day four years hence, the centenary of the Battle of Villers-Bretonneux, I’m sure they will.”
Mr Abbott said it was expected the new “interpretive centre”, to be built behind the Australian memorial, would open in 2018 to coincide with 100th anniversary commemorations.
The “Sir John Monash” centre will help to better explain Australia’s role in the final victories of World War I and the government will put up $6.9 million for the initial planning.