After a massive Friday with rehearsals and the Grand Anzac Concert, we were set to face another big day today, this time at The Australian National Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux.
We arrived at VB just before 9am, ready for all types of weather and found our place on the stage, next to the Royal Australian Air Force band.
As mentioned in the last blog, the rehearsals are mainly to ensure a smooth process when the ABC broadcasts the Anzac Day Dawn Service live (1.30pm, Monday 25 April).
That means many run-throughs to ensure all the technical / people aspects are set. During rehearsals, everyone was in good spirits and we did our part; singing our best to showcase how we intend to sound on Monday.
We were hopeful of some sunshine to see us through, however, we instead endured frosty air with blasts of icy wind.
It’s fortunate that we are a creative and resourceful bunch, so started working out the best ways to use the clothing we had to be as comfortable as possible while we waited between sets. Some fashioned jumpers into scarves, while others chose to wear their uniform cap with a beanie to ensure sun protection and warmth.
The prize for ingenuity, however, went to chorister / piano accompanist Brendan for how he used his plastic poncho. Instead of wearing it like the regular person might, he wrapped it around his legs, to resemble a plastic skirt. This apparently contributed to his general overall warmth. He did have the advantage of hindsight though, having participated in last year’s Anzac Day trip.
The trend soon caught on, and by the end of the day a number of choristers were using the same technique, especially when the wind was fierce. People must have thought we were strange…
A little girl was overheard asking her mother, “Why are they wearing plastic bags around their legs?”
When we had breaks off the stage, we had our own ‘green room’ marquee, where we were able to defrost by reinstating the ‘penguin huddle’ mentioned in the last blog, complemented by coffee.
Between rehearsing the music, our choristers who will be speaking at the pre-dawn service, practised their readings. This included our resident French interpretor, chorister Charlotte, who will read a poem.
We didn’t have a lot of down time during the rehearsal, but when we did, it was great to chat with some of the musicians in the band and representatives from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
The short breaks were also a good chance to check out the memorial, while viewing the graves at the Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery, in the same site.
This was a good chance for our returning chorister, Sam Bosa to revisit a grave she discovered last year as part of an ‘Adopt a Digger’ program run by State Library of Queensland.
The library last year provided the 2015 Anzac Commemoration choristers a fallen Queensland digger to research and find their grave on the Western Front.
Sam’s Adopt-a-Digger was Private Percy Leonard Cooney from Brisbane, who served in the 26th Battalion. He was wounded in action and died on 11 August 1918, aged 31.
Sam had found Cooney’s grave during last year’s trip, and upon returning to Australia, she tried to find his descendants, to no avail. Sam decided to visit the grave again today, as she felt it was unlikely his family would have been able to. She is keen to continue to search for his family and to discover more about his history.
Sam’s interest in discovering more about her ‘Adopt a Digger’ shows we can make connections with those who served in WW1, without having direct ancestry.
It was such an important time in Australia’s history, and is so important to commemorate.
While we are having a fun time in France, we also understand the significance of this trip, and intend to be the best ambassadors we can be for Australia.
We can’t wait to honour those who made huge sacrifices to fight for our country, and most often in dire conditions (far worse than the small issue of being cold!). We can’t wait to honour them through what we do best – singing.
We don’t have long to go now! We have a day off tomorrow (Sunday) from rehearsals, so will be visiting Pozières and a number of other sites. I’m sure the tours tomorrow will further instil the importance of why we are here.
(Make sure you join Friends of Birralee’s Anzac Centenary Tours group on Facebook for all the news!)