We invite you to tune into the Centenary of the First World War Armistice via the ABC at 9.42pm (Brisbane time), or catch the service live here today (Sunday 11 November). ABC coverage of other Armistice Day services are listed here.
On the 9 November, choristers woke for another busy day, while also one of reflection, with each day in the lead up to Armistice Day having historic events which contributed to the end of WW1. Chorister Laurence Nicol shared with the group his feelings towards the day.
“Today marks 100 years since the German people overthrew their monarch, Kaiser Wilhelm II. This was one of the defining events that brought an end to the First World War two days later. For all the fighting, destruction and pointless slaughter, the war was ended not by tanks, artillery bombardments or infantry charges, but by the people of Germany rising up against those responsible for the war on the home front. I doubt this event will get the attention it deserves in the media, but it is a reminder that we all have the power and responsibility to make sure our leaders do not make it happen again.”
Two of our Accompanying People, Tony Forbes and Ray Jennings (father and grandfather of chorister Shelby) had a moment of reflection of their own, visiting the grave of Ray’s Great Uncle, Reuben John Rule who was killed in action on the 25 July 1916, aged 19 and now rests in Pozieres British Cemetery. It was a beautiful moment and the perfect way for Ray to honour his family.
Following a rehearsal at the Australian National Memorial, the choristers made a short stop at Villers-Bretonneux to explore the Musée Franco-Australien which has been recently renovated and looks amazing.
The museum exhibits the Australian experience in Villers-Bretonneux during the war, with some of the stories including what happened in the town in April 1918. The battle between the British and the Germans marked the world’s first tank battle. The Germans won and had the village occupied, but then lost in a counter attack by two Australian brigades.
The museum overlooks the Victoria school and its playground with a big sign saying “Do not forget Australia”. The original school was destroyed in 1918, so, the Australian soldiers (mainly from Victoria) worked with the Victorian Government and many schools to raise funds to rebuild it, with construction completed in 1927.
From Villers-Bretonneux, the choir was driven to Allonville, with high expectations for a an emotionally stirring, while enjoyable evening. Expectations were met.
Voices of Birralee first met the people of Allonville in July 2016 when Julie Christiansen led a choir to sing at the Centenary of the Battles of Pozieres and Fromelles. The choir performed a community concert in Allonville and at the first commemoration service for the Australian troops who were killed in Allonville.
Chorister Joshua Clifford spoke to some of the locals and heard about The Smart Set, a group of soldiers who had been injured and because they couldn’t serve on the front line, they started a performance troupe to lift morale of soldiers.
Allonville was a place of respite for many soldiers and one night after The Smart Set had performed in a barn there in May 1918, two German shells struck the barn, killing 27 Australian soldiers who were billeted and injuring many others. The Smart Set escaped unharmed and despite the horrific ordeal, they kept travelling throughout the war to lift the spirits of those who needed it most.
Joshua wrote a poem about The Smart Set titled, And Now The War Has Ended, and earlier this year Julie invited world renown composer Paul Jarman to set the words to music, with the commission part-funded by a Pozible fundraising campaign with contributions from the Voices of Birralee and wider community.
Upon arriving to the town, our first stop was the Allonville Communal Cemetery where some of those who died in the horrific event of May 1918 were buried. Having been at the Australian National Memorial (the second image shown in the video below) earlier that day, the cemetery in Allonville was such a contrast – it was small and quaint, but so, so special and beautifully cared for. Just that afternoon the local school children had visited and placed hand-made poppies (crafted out of plastic bottles) onto the graves.
Peter Francis played The Last Post to honour the fallen soldiers, before we stood for a minute’s silence.
The choristers then moved to the nearby church to sound check and get ready for the concert as locals began filling the church.
After much anticipation, we were very excited to finally share And Now the War Has Ended. This is how it went.
The people of Allonville, including friend to Birralee, Martial Louis were moved by the song, along with the Australian contingent of the audience. Martial and the town gifted Joshua a book about Allonville, while Voices of Birralee presented the town a frame with the sheet music and French and Australian lyrics for both And Now the War Has Ended and Fields of Allonville (the piece Joshua wrote first, with music composed by Joseph Twist).
The concert continued to build with the final song, The Parting Glass representing the friendship between Voices of Birralee and Allonville.
After, we were treated to a huge meal provided the the Allonville community. Each of the choristers mingled with the locals, with the locals showing the utmost hospitality producing home-made deer Pâté, wine, Cointreau and other delectable treats to enjoy.
Our pipers, Laurence and Will started playing which encouraged a great display of dancing by our group and the Allonville people who were incredibly festive.
They really knew how to party even though we only had a few hours with them! There were some tears shed leaving, with many of the group moved by the experience and feeling beautifully welcomed.
Thank you to the Allonville community! You will be in our hearts forever!
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