Our choristers’ last official day of tour began with a special surprise for their conductor and Voices of Birralee’s Artistic Director and Founder, Julie Christiansen OAM.
Julie was led to Amiens Cathedral where the choir sang Notre Pere, a beautiful gift resonating throughout the cathedral, which Julie described as “soul filling, sublime and tranquil”.
Soon after, the choir left Amiens for their final performance, singing at the commemoration service for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Pozieres. The service held at the First Australian Division Memorial can be watched on ABC iView here.
The service was beautiful, beginning with the marching in of the colours of 12 current serving units holding direct lineage to those who fought.
A number of stories were told of the bravery of the soldiers in what was a fierce battle, with 23,000 casualties between 23 July and 4 September 1916, with more than 6,700 killed (more here).
The horrific events of the first battle of the Somme, led historian Charles Bean to note the fields surrounding this site as being ‘more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other spot on earth’. (Referenced here in ‘Australians on the Western Front 1914 – 1918′).
Stories were told of the events which led to troops receiving Victoria and Military Cross medals, while also noting the dedication of the Australian Army Nursing Service.
Hon Dan Tehan, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of Anzac, noted how the efforts of the Anzacs were even more impressive given their involvement wasn’t by conscription.
“Unlike other forces, our soldiers were not forced to March, but chose to walk – an army of volunteers…They volunteered to serve, despite the risk, the greatest risk, of them all.”
Our choristers performed beautifully, each with a different reason for being a part of it all. Sarah Morton, noted her pride:
“It was very special to be wearing my grandfather’s medals alongside my great great uncle Cecil’s sovereign case yesterday at Pozieres. Cecil fought on the Western Front in France before going to Belgium where he was killed in battle and now lies. It is such a privilege to be able to honour him and those men who fought beside him and those who subsequently and continue to put everything on the line in order to afford us the wonderful life we live.”
Upon returning to Amiens, we had a special dinner before our choristers went their separate ways – some to pursue further travel, with others returning to Australia.
This was a lovely way to debrief after a massive and emotionally charged week. It was so much fun, with lots of singing by the canal.
A lovely moment was when some talented local buskers approached our table – They might have got more than what they had bargained for!
Each chorister and AP will have different highlights from the week, and one of these came from AP / musician / dad Peter Francis. He noted the tour highlight was in Allonville with five family members involved in the performances. Peter played percussion, Heather Francis played the Flute, choristers Margie and Andy sang, while their brother (and former Birralee chorister) Tim played the trumpet.
Over the week our choristers bonded and sang at such a high standard. Most choristers were from Resonance of Birralee, and some were from Birralee Blokes, coming together to form this unique Western Front Centenary Choir.
Claire Preston who assisted Julie with conducting, shared her gratitude with Resonance of Birralee and Blokes’ conductor Paul Holley OAM, while noting the incredible opportunity.
“It was such a pleasure working with your Resonance and Blokes singers – They welcomed me warmly and were fabulous ambassadors. Every performance they gave everything they had to make it their best and they were a very fun loving tour family.
“I thoroughly enjoyed the trip and have too many highlights to list. I’ve left a piece of my heart in Allonville and have promised to return. It was a privilege to tour the battlefields and an honour to sing for our fallen. Lifetime memories!”
All of the choristers will cherish the lifetime memories taken from this trip, with some very special thank yous to those who have made it possible! A huge thank you to:
- Vicki Munday and Robert Knight, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
- Eric Brisse from the Somme Region for his wonderful support and organisation.
- Kim Sutherland and Paul Jarman, Hunter Singers.
- Allan Turner and Neil Phillips of the Ashgrove – The Gap Lions Club, and the club for its ongoing support and assistance in our fundraising efforts.
- The Mayor of Fromelles, Jean-Gabriel Masson.
- The Mayor, Patrick Simon, and Deputy-Mayor, Benoit Decottegnie, of Villers-Brettoneux and the community for their ongoing support and hospitality.
- The Mayor, Mr Joël Delrue, and Deputy-Mayor, Mr Lemaire, of Allonville and the community for their warm hospitality.
- Matthieu for his wonderful assistance and the AV team for making the choir sound fabulous.
AND a big thanks to our families and friends back home for following our journey! We appreciate your support!
(Keep up to date with our centenary tours via our Facebook group)