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French town with Australia link raises €18k for fires

A small French town with links to Australia going back to World War One has raised more than €18,000 for the fire-ravaged country.

The 4,500-inhabitant commune of Villers-Bretonneux (near Amiens, Somme, Hauts-de-France) has launched its own online fundraiser to help raise extra money to support the firefighting effort in Australia.

More than €18,000 has been raised, from more than 600 participants.

Mayor Patrick Simon said: “Around €8,500 [was raised] in 24 hours.” He added that the money would go directly to the fundraising effort.

A march of solidarity is also planned for February 2, in the presence of the Australian ambassador.

Earlier this week, the town’s Victoria school made headlines when it set up its own fundraising page, 100 years after the Australian state of Victoria helped to raise money to rebuild the school and town in the aftermath of World War One, in 1920.

In honour of this, the school was renamed “Victoria”, and a town motto is now: “Do not forget Australia (N’oublions jamais l’Australie)".

The town also has a memorial, at which 2,142 soldiers are buried, of which 779 are Australian. The site is often seen as a hub to remember the more than 11,000 soldiers who died “for France” over the course of World War One, and hosts ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) Day ceremonies each year.

Yves Taté, administrator at the Franco-Australian museum in the town, explained: “It is a memorial link. It dates to World War One, 101 years ago. Australian troops also pushed back a German attack in Villers-Bretonneux.”

The French town has also been twinned with the small, 2,000-inhabitant Australian town of Robinvale, in the north of Victoria, for 30 years.

Mr Simon said: “We will also be helping our sister town.”

Alejandro Schneider, an Australian who lives in Sydney but who maintains close links with the French town, told news source FranceInfo: “Thank you to our friends in France.

"We have a very special relationship with Villiers. They are huge friends that I have known for 20 years. I hope that we will always help each other when one of us has difficulties."

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