THURSDAY 9TH DECEMBER: VISIT TO JOHAN’S SCHOOL AT WAREGEM
Today would be quite a different day as we would not have any commemorations to do and we would also be visiting VTI the school where Johan Durnez works. As the programme would have a late start in the afternoon including an evening session with the adult English class, we would begin later in the morning. The kids were getting very tired as were we all so the late start was a bonus for everyone. And of course today would be our last day with Wozzie the horse who we had come to love over the year and who we had shared many experiences with. The morning battlefields visits included a few spots we had not done previously which was also a bonus. I had hoped we could take the kids to the Passchendaele museum “The Trench Experience” however major upgrading was taking place so unfortunately we weren’t able to get the group in. So we did something else that was new: a walk along the Anzac path in Passchendaele where it is thought the famous photograph by Frank Hurley was taken early October 1917 of the soldiers on the side of the road just sitting staring, totally exhausted and surrounded by a few dead men. It is a haunting image one I often refer to in senior history classes when discussing the numbing effect of continuous battles in regions such as Flanders. Our walk however was light years away from those poor wretches who endured those conditions of 1917. It was very apparent to me that this very region was where my great uncle Marty probably saw his last final days and hours. But these kids were just having fun throwing snow balls at random people…myself included which became a bit of a kicking target practice re AFL footy!! Made quite a reasonable effort in my humble opinion! Lunch was back in Ieper and thanks to Jackie making a few phone calls on our behalf we enjoyed a very yummy lunch for 12 Euros …3 courses ..SOUP naturally…this was becoming a bit of a joke with the kids being rather souped out over the last few days. Oh well the rest was yummy and perfect for our cold bodies to re-cooperate.
By 2.30 it was time to hit the road and set off for Waregem. Johan is a great planner and I knew that everything would go like clockwork …..it did. On our arrival a group of teachers were there waving and greeting us with cameras flashing it was all rather cute! We met with the Ozzie Wozzie students and staff for a formal greeting and slide show of Ozzie’s experiences in Belgium over the year. It was lovely to see how this school had embraced the whole concept of the two animals sharing our worlds via their photos. The principal presented us with gifts…pottery plates with the school logo (PACKING!!!!! EXTRA WEIGHT!!! Argh…..) plus a number of small things for the kids. And then the horse and the little kangaroo were handed back and their part of the project was over. I felt quite sad to let go of the Wozzie……crazy when you think about it. The VTI kids had to leave at 5.00 for their buses and our group was then taken to the staff room for refreshments and then a tour of the school. Computing time for the kids was made available up to 6.30 then the next stage of the visit took place. Angela and Patrick teach English to adults in an evening programme and after my husband Paul and I visited them last year the invitation was for our group to join the adults for a meal and then various presentations …….until 10.00 pm!!!! Oh dear I wasn’t sure if we could keep our eyes open knowing just how tired everyone was. However they had gone to so much trouble on our behalf we needed to make sure we didn’t disappoint. The food was beautifully done with loads of baguettes and SOUP……and then superbly created desserts and handmade chocolates! It all just kept on coming. They had gone to so much effort these beautiful people. Patrick had made a very detailed slideshow of lots of Australian images which I then spoke to….for an hour and half! Nearly ran out of words…BUT the best bit was the role playing of shearing a sheep by Hamish. Lachy was on all fours acting as the sheep (well he does have New Zealand relatives!) and Hamish went through the technique of shearing complete with Lachy on his back and Hamish “shearing” his belly!!!! It was hilarious and a moment our hosts just loved. The final part was a sing along with Hamish and Flo on guitars leading us through “Waltzing Matilda” and other Aussie songs. They also sang some of the WW1c songs Flo wrote at Rod’s request. It was a fitting end to a lovely evening with these very kind and friendly folk. A few more goodbyes to those we would not see again….oh how I hate that part as it doesn’t get easier with each trip. The bus was very quiet on the return journey. Tomorrow would be our final day on the battlefields and everyone was fully aware of our trip drawing to its closure.