Ashton Soldier travels to northern France to mark 100th anniversary of historic World War I battle

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LE HAMEL, FRANCE (07/11/2018) (readMedia)-- It was the first time Illinois Soldiers fought during World War I, sparking a military partnership that has lasted for the past century. Exactly 100 years later, Illinois National Guard leaders and soldiers traveled back to northern France to mark the centennial anniversary of the Battle of Hamel.

On July 4, 1918, Illinois National Guard Soldiers fought for the first time in WWI, alongside Soldiers from the Australian Army in the Battle of Hamel, considered a turning point toward Allied victory. This Independence Day, on July 4, 2018, Maj. Gen. Richard J. Hayes, Jr., The Adjutant General – Illinois National Guard, of Chatham, Illinois, joined a group of Illinois National Guard Soldiers, representatives from the Department of Defense and the Australian Army in Le Hamel, France, to mark 100 years since this historic battle. Hayes was also joined by a small group of Illinois Army National Guard Soldiers, including Spc. Troy Mairs of Ashton, Illinois.

Hayes said the Battle of Hamel remains a point of pride for the Illinois National Guard, even 100 years later.

"To think that Illinois was the first state National Guard that was activated by the President, the first units that ever fought with the Australians, and the first units ever to serve under the command of another nation – we're duly proud as Illinois National Guardsmen of that. We're proud of our history and we're proud to share it with our friends from Australia," said Hayes.

Mairs said the trip was a unique opportunity to represent the U.S. on foreign soil. "As a bit of a history buff, I was honored to represent our country on the hallowed ground of Hamel, France. What I had not expected was the inherent camaraderie, or "mateship" as we called it, that still exists 100 years later between us 'Yanks' and our 'Aussie' counterparts from the Australian Defence Forces," Mairs said.

The Battle of Hamel was the start of a military partnership that has thrived for the past century, as it was the first time the United States and Australia united and fought against a common foe. It was also the first time the Allied forces coordinated an all-arms battle with tanks, aircraft, artillery, and machine guns. As described in a letter dated July 5, 1918, by World War I Australian Lieutenant General John Monash, "That Soldiers of the United States and of Australia should have thus been associated for the first time in such close cooperation on the battlefield is an historical event of such significance that it will live forever in the annals of our respective nations."

Photo Cutline 1: The Illinois Army National Guard's Spc. Troy Mairs of Ashton (left) and Sgt. 1st Class Robert Reed of Sparta salute with Australian service members during a headstone rededication conducted for Australian Army Private Robert Bowness on July 4, 2018, at Villers-Bretonneux Cemetery in France. Bowness, a member of Australia's 4th Pioneer Battalion, was killed on the Western Front 100 years ago. His final resting place is now known to his descendants. (Photo by Sgt. Janine Fabre, Australian Army)

Photo Cutline 2: The Illinois Army National Guard's Spc. Ryan Beard of East Peoria, Sgt. 1st Class Robert Reed of Sparta, Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Koehler of Benson, and Spc. Troy Mairs of Ashton (left to right) join an Australian Army representative in Le Hamel, France, on July 4, 2018, to mark 100 years of partnership between U.S. and Australian Armed Forces. Illinois National Guard Soldiers fought under the command of Australian forces during the Battle of Hamel during World War I on July 4, 1918. (Courtesy photo submitted by Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Koehler, ILARNG)