So the ‘leisure’ part is over – the reality of what this trip is actually about is just beginning to set in.
Today we checked out of our Paris hotel, heading for Amiens around noon.
Passing fields of canola flowers, wind farms and gorgeously French little villages, we arrived in Amiens two hours later.
With a number of choristers taking a stroll into the town for an afternoon snack, we were suddenly given a glimpse at how much the sacrifices of Australians means to the people in this region of the Somme. It is Australia Week, a week dedicated to the events surrounding Anzac Day, so the streets were flanked by Australian flags, however, it was the fixtures on this mall that gave us shivers:
‘Thanks’ is written on one side of the mall, with’Merci’ on the other, with the letters highlighted by historic WW1 images.
It’s incredible that what Australia did for this region about 100 years ago is still remembered as if it were yesterday. We’re constantly trying to discover more about the events that went on in this part of the world, and one significant event that stands out is what occurred in April 1918. Germany had taken hold of Villers-Bretonneux, a strategic position in their invasion of the Somme, but within 48 hours Australia had moved in and claimed the town back for France. The following words seem to sum up what the sentiment was at the time for our Aussie soldiers, and it is a sentiment that is still very much apparent today.
‘As Bishop of Amiens I owe you and your illustrious dead my heartfelt thanks because the land of my diocese has been your field of battle, and you have delivered it by the sacrifice of your blood. During the painful days of the invasion you made a rampart of your breasts, behind which you shielded and saved the last shreds of my territory … the children who in coming centuries will grow up in your homes and schools, will learn through your good deeds the lessons of patriotism. They will not be able to pronounce your name without speaking of the towns, villages, tablelands, ridges and valleys of the Somme.’
7 November 1920, Notre Dame d’Amiens Cathedral, the Bishop of Amiens (http://www.ww1westernfront.gov.au/villers-bretonneux/amiens-cathedral.php)
This feeling of gratitude was further amplified when we arrived in Villers-Bretonneux, for our concert in the Covered Market for the local community.
Inside the hall, there were the familiar colours of green and gold, Australian flags, with Australian-themed artwork from the local children.
We were treated to a generous dinner cooked by the Australia Week volunteers, before the Covered Market was packed with locals, including the Mayor and Deputy Mayor. We were also joined by Royal Australian Air Force Band flautist Vicky, who beautifully complemented our vocals in Ave Maria.
It was a fun evening with our repertoire very well received, while a number of choristers bravely introduced various songs in French to the audience.
A highlight was the crowd-participation pieces, including Waltzing Matilda. The community joined in, with some singing the words, and others clapping along.
At the end of the concert, they clapped until we sung an encore song…. or two.
It was such wonderful recognition of the Villers-Bretonneux and Australian connection, and to know that we are now part of that, is something that none of the choristers are taking lightly.
Tomorrow we’ll be heading to Bullecourt for rehearsals, while exploring more about Australia and France’s WW1 history at museums and memorials.
We’ll let you know what we discover.
(Make sure you sign up to Friends of Birralee’s Anzac Centenary Tours for all the updates!).