Day 6: On the battlefields of the Somme

Day 6 (Friday) marked the choir’s first day off with no rehearsals or performances scheduled.

It had been such a wonderful evening on Thursday night with the Bailleul community, so it was time to explore a little more of the town, including visiting the Bailleul Communal Cemetery, which is where Sergeant JD Batty is buried, the first Australian to die on the Western Front during WW1.

Upon arrival the group was greeted by local school children also visiting the cemetery to learn of its importance to both France and Australia’s history.

The choristers gifted the children a small koala and performed Waltzing Matilda. 

Bailleul Communal Cemetery marked the beginning of a day of battlefield and museum visits, with the next stop, the Canadian National Vimy Memorial. 

“The memorial is majestic and inspiring featuring large statues representing the shared ideals of Canada, France and Britain. The names of 11,285 Canadians who were killed in France and have no known grave are carved into the walls of the memorial,” chorister Georgia Davey said.

Fellow chorister Kerry Pickering noted that it was interesting to see the landscape of the nearby Vimy Memorial Park still pockmarked with remains of trenches and shell holes.

“The German and Canadian/allied front lines were within 30 metres of each other in some places which just seems crazy,” she said.

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Another chorister Rachel Rollo added it was incredibly surreal to be where, 101 years ago, an enormous and important battle was fought, and really brought home the magnitude of the war.

“It was particularly surreal to see how beautiful, peaceful and serene the area is now, in particular with the birds singing, daisies and spring sunshine, which to me was incredible that an area that experienced so much devastation could be so at peace now,” she said, and shared the below video.

Next up was the Thiepval Memorial, which is the largest Commonwealth memorial in the world and commemorates the lives of more than 72,000 British and South African soldiers reported missing in the Somme.

Below its towering arches some choristers performed two pieces including When the Earth Stands Still and Remember. The acoustics were stunning, with the sound of Birralee echoing across the rolling hills of the memorial.

VOB France Tour 2018
Lochnagar Mine Crater Memorial (pic by Georgia)

As the day drew to a close the group visited the Lochnagar Mine Crater Memorial, which was formed when a mine exploded on the 1 July 1916, creating the largest man-made mine crater on the Western Front.

As the choristers observed the memorial, a gentleman visiting the site stood tall with a bugle in hand and the sound of The Last Post rang across the crater and surrounding fields.

All visitors to the site paused to pay their respect, followed by a minute’s silence. When the choristers thanked the man for his performance, he said: “I visit all the Somme sites regularly as a small way of showing my respect”.

One of the final stops on the way back to Amiens was at the 1st Division Australian Memorial in Pozieres. This was where the Centenary of the Battle of Pozieres was held in July 2016, which involved one of Voices of Birralee’s choirs.

The choristers are now getting ready for their ‘official duties’ of the tour. Saturday will mark the choir’s first rehearsals at the Australian National Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux,  for next Wednesday’s commemoration service for Anzac Day and the Centenary of the Battle of Villers-Bretonneux.

VOB France Tour 2018
The choristers do much needed washing in preparation for the important days ahead – Chris, Kate, Meg and Rohan (pic Tilly)

We’ll bring you more news soon!

#vobanzac2018 #lestweforget #wewillrememberthem

(Follow the journey! Follow our blog by hovering your curser on the bottom right-hand corner of this page and enter your email address, and you are also invited to join the Friends of Birralee’s Anzac Centenary Tours group on Facebook.) 

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