In the quadrangle of the primary school of Villers-Bretonneux, in the north of France, hangs a famous sign, painted in green and gold.
âDon’t forget Australia,â he says, reminding visitors that there is one of Australia’s most lasting and solemn international friendships here.
The sign recalls the 2,400 Australian soldiers who lost their lives on the night of April 24, 1918, as they retook the village from German forces and in so doing turned the tide of World War I. It also pays tribute to the schoolchildren of Victoria who later donated their pennies to rebuild the village school.
There are reminders all over northern France of Australian blood on French soil from WWI and WWII. On a hill above Villers-Bretonneux sits the Australian National Memorial, its walls listing 11,000 names of Australian World War I soldiers still missing, each with no known graves.
For either nation, insulting the other is therefore a matter of consequence even a century later – especially when it comes to military matters.
French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to recall his country’s ambassador from Australia after Prime Minister Scott Morrison suddenly trashed France’s submarine contract is an indication of extreme offense.
This has only happened once before, in 1995, at a time when Franco-Australian relations were at their lowest.
The Keating government, in protest against France’s continued nuclear testing on Mururoa Atoll in French Polynesia, has removed the French Dassault fighter jet from the shortlist for a fleet of trainers for the RAAF .
At the time, relations were so strained that the French government accused Australian authorities of allowing anti-nuclear protesters to deny diplomats entry to their embassy in Canberra; prevent mail – including diplomatic bags – from reaching the embassy; and delay French ships in Australian ports.