Connecting Spirits 2006
In mid 2005, the first planning meeting was held at Meningie Area School and 10 students expressed interest. Planning began and ideas for raising funds to support these students were discussed. With generous support from Singapore Airlines, a raffle was launched, with first prize being a trip to Turkey for Anzac Day 2006.
Eventually 8 students made a firm commitment to participate in the project, but this number was not enough for a viable trip. By this time Julie had moved to Birdwood High School, and she approached her new principal for approval to ask students from this school if they would like to take up this opportunity. 5 quickly signed up and with less than 6 months to plan, began their own journey.
After months of hard work, raising funds and researching soldiers, we were ready to leave.
The group, consisting of the 13 students and 9 adults, left Adelaide on November 6th, 2006. For many this was the first time overseas, and the longest time that they had been away from home and their families, so anticipation was mixed with some trepidation as the plane left the runway.
Our first stop was Singapore where we had a cultural tour which introduced us to the customs, religions and foods of the Chinese, Indian and Malay cultures. We then toured the battlefield sites before a ceremony at the Kranji War Memorial and Cemetery to commemorate those who lost their lives in South-East Asia during World War 2.
From there we flew to Paris. The highlight of this part of the journey was the Remembrance Day Ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe, for which we had official invitations from Jacques Chirac. We spent the next few days visiting the sites of Paris and getting used to 22 people negotiating the Met in one group.
Our next stop was Amiens, where the real focus of our tour began. We spent the next 4 days touring the battlefields and cemeteries of the Somme region, commemorating our soldiers who had fallen in this region. A highlight here was our commemoration at the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Brettoneux, where we commemorated 10 soldiers, including the first of our Ngarrindjeri soldiers, Arthur Walker and Francis Varcoe.
From here we travelled to Ieper in Belgium, stopping on the way at the site of the Battle of Fromelles, the first major battle fought by Australians on the Western Front.
While in Ieper we spent another 4 days commemorating soldiers and visiting sites of interest in the area. Highlights of this part of the journey were the service commemorating Rufus Rigney and participating in the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate.
After this we travelled to Menin, where we went to Sint Aloysis College to meet the families that we were to be billeted with for four days. While there we visited Bruges and Brussels with our Belgium hosts.
Our final leg was over the English Channel to a one night stay at Canterbury and tour of the Cathedral. Then to London for a few days of sight-seeing and the return flight to Adelaide.
You can read all about our trip in detail in the book, "Connecting Spirits 2006", launched on Remembrance Day 2007. For your copy contact Meningie Area School or Birdwood High School.