Day 5: Dawn Service rehearsal and mateship

“HUDDLE…like penguins!” one of the choristers whispered with haste. We were at the end of the Grand Anzac Concert tonight. It was a massive community effort with various choirs, soloists, and an orchestra, to commemorate WW1.

We discovered last night, during our rehearsal, how chilly Notre Dame Amiens can get – it was at least 30 degrees colder than outside (yes okay, that might be a slight exaggeration, but even still, we ensured we were rugged up for tonight).

It was a beautiful concert, and the ensemble performed Ubi Caritas, We Will Remember Them, and Earth Song, while participating in the mass choir piece, Bach’s Ruht Wohl.

Being a part of this concert was a sensational opportunity. Where else would we have the opportunity to perform in a historic cathedral like Notre Dame, Amiens, with some of its structure dating back to 1220!?

While we had explored the space during the day on Thursday, it was very cool to see what it looked and felt like at night.

We watched the sun go down, shimmering through the beautiful stained glass windows. The cathedral was then in complete darkness, with a light-show highlighting the various performances, while a slideshow honoured our Anzac history in France.

We also were introduced to the emphatic spirit of the Amiens’ community. The cathedral was packed, and the audience gave the performers a standing ovation at the end!

So, after a ‘you could hear a pin drop’ type night, where the only sounds were from the stunning performances, MCs or a creaking stage, we wondered if anyone had heard the penguin comment. This was when most of the choir of 30 were indeed huddled like penguins while trying to look inconspicuous as a clump in the dark, while being tempted to journey in this clump up to the stage to maintain our warmth.

This moment, which I hope you understand was funny, showcased the level of ‘mateship’ our Anzac Commemoration Choir has developed over the past week as we’ve shared experiences that some of us will unlikely experience again.

The concert was a great way to wrap up what’s been a massive day.

We set off early for a rehearsal with the Royal Australian Air Force Band, led by Squadron Leader Mathew Shelley, at Megacite, Amiens. This was to run through some of the songs the choir will be singing with the band at the Pre-Dawn and Dawn Service on Anzac Day.

After the rehearsal Mathew presented our conductor, Paul and the choristers an Air Force medallion to recognise the work we have done together. This was such a beautiful gesture, and no one was more moved, however, than one chorister.

We won’t name her…but she must have been so excited and upon receiving the medallion she fumbled and it went flying to hit the ground with a loud and offensive ‘clunk’. Oops. The chorister was mortified, however, the band …and the rest of the choir, found it hilarious!

Next stop was the Franco-Australian Museum in Villers-Bretonneux, situated next to The Victoria School (a school funded by children from Victoria, Australia, showcasing good will to France. It was built from 1923 – 1927). The school is known for the iconic words in the Children’s Playground, ‘Do Not Forget Australia’.

The museum depicts the Australians’ stories of WW1, mainly their involvement in France.

The pieces were incredibly moving, including pictures of the soldiers with various looks in their eyes; fear, excited for adventure, weariness. Other pieces included poems about soldiers, written by the families with regrets of not being able to visit the gravesides in northern France, with artwork by soldiers sent home to loved ones as souvenirs.


After a quick bite to eat, and a photo-stop at the Villers-Bretonneux Town Hall, we headed to the Australian War Memorial.

The landscape is beautiful, and the best way to appreciate it is from the tower. As you can see from the chairs, staging, marquees etc. preparations are well and truly under way for Anzac Day, and our preparations are going well too.

Today’s rehearsal included going through the Dawn Service which will be broadcast live on Anzac Day (that’s 1:30pm on Monday 25 April on ABC). It allowed us to sing through some of the songs, while some of our choristers practised their readings.

We claimed our spot in front of the memorial and soaked in the atmosphere. The choristers’ view from their position, where they will sing, is lush fields, with rows of graves in the distance.

At this stage, the choristers are feeling various emotions, some being overwhelmed, with others excited about Anzaz Day or contemplative about the history.

The next few days will include rehearsals while exploring cemeteries to discover more about our Anzacs’ history on the Western Front.

We’re not too far now from the reason why we’re all here  – Anzac Day.

The countdown is on!

(Stay up-to-date with Anzac trip news at Friends of Birralee’s Centenary Tours group).

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