DAY SEVEN: SUTTON VENY
During the war, and right through to today, the Salisbury Plains have been the location of large military training camps and facilities. In WW1 this region also had many large army hospitals where many men from the Western Front, were treated. Along with this were the cemeteries with many Australians who never made it home. Over the last few years I have come to learn of the Sutton Veny story hence its inclusion on the tour. Sutton Veny is one of the tiny villages in the area where the camps were placed and after the war was full of Australian soldiers awaiting their repatriation home. Getting so many men home was a long process taking up to a year after the declaration of peace. During this period the Spanish flu tore through England and Europe killing more civilians than during the whole of the war. It has been said that up to 20 million lives were lost to the flu and this is where a new level of tragedy is played out. Awaiting their return home, many soldiers who had survived the horrors of the Western Front did not survive the peace. In Sutton Veny a tiny school is adjacent to the local cemetery and church and in this cemetery are around 170 Australians including two nurses. Our group would commemorate the South Australians today along with the nurses.
Nicky Barnard and I have been talking and planning our visit for some time and we both wanted a strong involvement of the kids both little and big. So here we were in this very special place.
A big day at Sutton Veny. It was a clear crisp day with a frost on the ground. The kids started to get the feel for how cold this place can be. We familiarized ourselves with the churchyard and worked out how we would do the commemorations. As we walked around the headstones the ice crunched beneath our boots. The service in the church was great with the highlight being the kids from the school singing the Remembrance song to us. (The Sutton Veny kids turned around and faced us at the back of the church and sang it TO us. A truly precious moment)
HAMISH JURGS (Youth Leader)
Flo’s performance of her brand new song about Sutton Veny was just wonderful. Nearly had me in tears…..nearly.
The Sutton Veny children were adorable! I love their accent. It was SOOOOO cold today I couldn’t feel my feet! I wasn’t sure if my nose was running or not. My commemoration of Frank Sowton got to me more than I thought it would. I didn’t feel nervous when it was my turn to speak I felt something different, something I can’t explain.
Today was very cold. I did my first commemoration and at the end of the ceremony I played the reveille. Both of these experiences were difficult, but I consider myself lucky to have taken part in them.
Today was fun. During the commemoration, even though it was really cold, the little kids stood there and just listened to what we had to say.
Meeting the Sutton Veny kids today was great. They were all so cute with their little uniforms and little accents. I met a girl called Mia who I exchanged gifts with. We also showed them what REAL FOOTBALL was with a game of Aussie Rules in which Dylan found an ‘avenue’ then the ground…..definitely a highlight. I was sad leaving them but they gave us cards they had designed so I wrote a thank you and left my email and name so they could face-book me. They made us feel so welcome and instantly made friends with the 10 and 11 year olds. I didn’t want to leave.
Seeing all those kids standing there was a really special moment because it meant so much to them as it did to us. Seeing soldiers buried there after surviving the war yet never returning home was really saddening especially as many of them had done the hard yards to make it through the war. Playing a game of footy with the kids was a great way to finish off and lighten the mood. Seeing Dylan stack it over a wire whilst playing had to be one of the funniest moments of the trip!
Today was my first commemoration at Sutton Veny and I was really nervous because there were so many people there. I’d researched my soldier for the last two years and it was unreal to see his grave. It felt like I could finally put something to the name. The kids were adorable and said some hilarious things.
We had a chapel service and then commemorated 15 soldiers. This was very moving and touching to everyone there. We slowly moved from soldier to soldier. Afterwards I went around to all of the headstones throughout the cemetery.
Today was something amazing. The kids singing was heartwarming and the way they stood so quietly and respectfully in the freezing cold was incredible. Standing out there today I really started to realize how special this all is and how much it means. Playing footy with the English kids was hilarious but my highlight was walking by myself from the church to the school and being pointed out by several school kids as one yelled, “LOOK! It’s an Australian!” Made my day!
Today was a big day as I had three commemorations. They were my first lot and I was overcome with emotions which I had not felt before. So many people in one place all losing their lives just brought the reality and the enormity of the war and all the innocent deaths.
A football was produced and before we knew it there were Sutton Veny year 6 students and our CS group out on their field with smiles all round and lots of laughter bringing us all together, intertwined. During the service tears were easily produced with the thought of the soldiers and their families.
Newsbreak! Richard said it was snowing! I said it was cold!
Today was Sutton Veny. We started off with a church service. It was so cute when all the little kids turned around and sang a Remembrance sing to us. We did 15 commemorations and the little kids stood outside with us in the freezing cold for the entire time…and they didn’t complain once! After the commemorations we tried to teach the little Pommy kids how to play footy. They couldn’t figure out that it wasn’t rugby and they got really violent! The little girls on the sideliners were heckling the boys- one little girl yelled out “ Hey Alfie- NO ELVES ON THE FIELD!!!!” Hilarious!
I asked Melanie, who is 10, if Sutton Veny was a public or private school. She said, like it was obvious, “Of course it’s a public school, otherwise I’d have pony by now!”
And their words say it all. What a day and how wonderful it all was. This little school and village now have a permanent place in our project and our hearts. The end of the day saw the kids outside of the hotel making snowballs! Precious!!!!