The countdown is on for our choristers as they prepare for Anzac Day.
Saturday marked the first rehearsal for the commemoration service, beginning with meeting the Australian Army Band, before heading to the Australian National Memorial (ANM), in Villers-Bretonneux.
It was all super exciting for the choristers as they arrived at the site to another sunny day. With all the immense set up happening, it began to set in what the choristers are here to do.
Chorister Kate van Bruggen noted: “It was surreal having so many Australians all in the once place in France – but it made a foreign place feel like home which was lovely and comforting,” she said.
“I found this morning to be very moving – even though it was just a rehearsal. It’s incredible that so many people are working tirelessly to ensure that the Anzac Day service at VB gives our Anzacs the recognition and commemoration they so rightly deserve.”
Fellow chorister, Meg Ingram added,”Many of us found it surreal to realise that after many months of hype and preparation, we were finally singing in the grounds of the beautiful memorial. The rehearsals today, though very hot and tiring, were incredibly exciting and made us realise how humbling this ceremony will be.”
After the morning’s rehearsal, the group left ANM for Vignacourt and stopped to explore Thuilliers’ Farmhouse museum.
The old farmhouse is where a collection of glass plate negatives (photos from the war) were found in recent times. The photos were taken by Louis and Antoinette Thuillier in WW1 who set up a photo studio to capture photos of soldiers who passed through the town.
The collection is now displayed both in Canberra and at the museum in Vignacourt.
The collection features amazing photos – some thought provoking and some hilarious, showing the residents of the town and the soldiers who passed through, going about their daily life and also posing for portraits.
The choir had fun trying to to recreate some portraits in the same style, but using much more modern technology.
After the museum, the group got ready for the evening’s events in Vignacourt.
The Vignacourt townspeople provided the group a generous dinner before the choir sang in a Mass for Peace at Église Saint-Firmin de Vignacourt. The Mass for Peace involved priests from various countries and also a non-Catholic minister from the ADF. It was an amazing service of inclusion and friendship.
Following the mass, the choir performed a concert to a very receptive local audience who seemed to know all the words to It’s a Long Way to Tipperary as well as the choir’s French repertoire, A La Claire Fontaine and La Vie En Rose.
Like all of the concerts the choir has presented over the week, the concert in Vignacourt had its own share of emotions.
“Tonight’s concert was quite emotional at Vignacourt Cathedral as there were several French Army Veterans in the audience who wept throughout every piece – they came up to us afterwards and were so thankful that we had shared our music with them,” Kate said.
Meg added, “We are all continually astounded and moved by the overwhelming gratitude of the French people that we sing to. There were many tears tonight – both from the French audience, and the choristers too. Suffice it to say that we all love singing here in France!”
The entire tour has been an incredible experience, with more to go. Chorister Emma Anstey-Codd summed up her experience so far:
“My experience on tour thus far has been both deeply moving and inspirational. The newly opened Sir John Monash Centre at the Australian National Memorial was a particular highlight, and was the most immersive and emotional museum I have ever visited,” she said.
“To hear of both the tragedies and the incredible victories of our Australian soldiers is a humbling experience. I have shed many tears visiting the memorials and cemeteries which are so lovingly cared for by the communities these men gave their lives to protect. The stories of the Diggers also fill me with great pride.
“A quote from French Prime Minister Georges Clémenceau found on the Memorial at Le Hamel states: ‘When the Australians came to France, the French people expected a great deal of you… we knew that you would fight a real fight, but we did not know that from the very beginning you would astonish the whole continent… I shall go back tomorrow and say to my countrymen, I have seen the Australians, I have looked in their faces, I know that these men will fight alongside of us again until the cause for which we are all fighting is safe for us and for our children’ (1918).
“This spirit of perseverance and mateship, and the opportunity to remember the great loss and tragedy of the Western Front is what we take with us moving forward to rehearsals at ANM, preparing for Anzac Day.”
We’ll bring you more news soon!
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