There are so many ways to honour a significant time in our history and we choose to do it through singing.
This March, May and July, Voices of Birralee is presenting the Voices from the Trenches Choral Festival, proudly supported by the Queensland Government.
The festival will involve a number of schools from Brisbane and Toowoomba, along with Voices of Birralee’s ensembles, uniting communities through creating stunning music to pay tribute to what happened in the Somme, and other areas of the Western Front, 100 years’ ago.
The third concert will theme the finale of the Pemulwuy! National Male Voice Festival at QPAC on 2 July (tickets on sale soon).
While the concerts will be a wonderful celebration of music, it will provide a captivating reflection of wartime, with references to what happened in the Somme during the First World War.
It is difficult to comprehend Australia’s involvement all those years’ ago, and it’s something that Voices of Birralee and in particular, our touring choristers will continue to do during our five year commitment to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to sing at the Western Front centenary events.
One of our choristers who participated in the Anzac Day 2016 tour, journalist and history buff, Andrew Messenger describes his understanding of this time in our history.
“France was home to an entirely different sort of war. The Germans used far more artillery, far better than the Turks, and had a seemingly endless supply of equipment to keep up the barrage. They had better officers, more machine guns, better training and tougher trench systems, including underground concrete bunkers invulnerable to British or French shelling.
Worse, both sides had adopted new technologies for inflicting misery… It was a battlefield – 1,000 miles long – where the 150,000 man army of our tiny colony might have easily vanished. And it was a war of attrition, not skill.
The ANZACs were the crack troops, used to plug holes or at the spearhead of an offensive. The brutal calculus of attrition was most often applied to them (and the Canadians). By 1918 Australians had fought at the Somme (23,000 casualties), Bapaume (7,500), Messines (6,800) and Ypres or Passchendaele (38,000 including the bloodiest day in Australian military history). By the end of the war they would lose over 60% of their total strength, including 60,000 dead, the highest casualty rate for an English-speaking formation of its size in the war.”
(Read more in the Voices from the Trenches Festival program, released in March).
Another effective way of bringing to life the events of WW1, apart from through song, is though relaying narratives from those who had ancestors who served.
We’re reaching out to the Brisbane and Toowoomba communities to see what we can discover. And the stories won’t just be about the troops that fell in the Somme, but also about those who came home. For instance, Di Watson from Brisbane tells the story of her grandfather:
“Dead Dog Farm in the Somme Valley was quiet on that day in 1916. Quiet until a rifle shot startled the soldiers who were resting in the attic before the next big battle. The man who was shot was my grandfather. That bullet was to have a far-reaching effect on the man, his family and generations to come.
My grandfather’s battalion were billeted at Dead Dog Farm after enduring months of unrelenting shelling. The fighting experienced was amongst the heaviest so far. The Australian forces in France in a seven-week period had taken 28,400 casualties. It is not within human power to shake off the trauma experienced during this time.
Pozieres set the standard by which enemy shellfire was later measured. No village in the Somme area was so completely erased by shellfire as Pozieres. It was noted that towards the end of the battle men had even refused to follow their officers because of the horror of the shellfire. After this, there was considerable soul searching on the part of the soldiers who questioned both the carnage, which had taken place and the detested tactic of repeated advances on a narrow front. It was not surprising that they thought they were being sacrificed.”
(Read more in the Voices from the Trenches Festival programme to be released in March).
The festival is going to be an exceptional event and we invite your stories. If you have ancestor/s who served on the Western Front, we’d love to hear from you. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the details.