Australia contributes $623,000 to French WWI museum

PARIS (AFP) - Australia said Monday it would contribute 386,000 euros (S$623,000) to help renovate a trail and a French museum commemorating the hundreds of thousands of its nationals who died in the conflict.

The money would pay for new interactive exhibits in the northern French town of Peronne where Australians fought, including in the town's Museum of the Great War, the Australian minister for Veterans' Affairs, Warren Snowdon, said during a visit to Paris.

France will match the contribution, which goes towards an "Australian Remembrance Trail" that spans much of the 200km Western Front where Australians served.

The trail expands on previous efforts by France and Belgium to honour Australian servicemen in the war - the "diggers" - by allowing visitors and hikers to see the main battle zones.

Some 400,000 Australians went to Europe to fight with the Allied forces, and 60,000 of them died and a further 200,000 were injured.

The casualties badly depleted Australia's population, which was just 3.5 million at the time - especially among men of military age.

"Our history is relatively new. We were only made a nation in 1901. Less than a decade and a half later, we formed an army and we were at war," Mr Snowdon said at the Australian embassy in Paris.

"We don't have the florid history of the French and the Germans and the English, and the wars that have been fought over centuries... And even though this war was a monumental disaster, it had a tremendous impact on the nation." Mr Herve Francois, director of the museum, said the exhibit would "talk about history, about human beings, those soldiers, those men, those nurses, and even sometimes those young French people who were there and went back to Australia."

Some of Australia's investment will go towards an exhibits on Mont Saint-Quentin itself, a place where Australian forces in 1918 broke German lines and seized a strategic position on the Western Front.

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