And so it is now time to return to family, summer holidays and for me a new direction with ‘retirement’ and starting similar projects for other schools and interested adults. After freezing conditions in Europe and the UK I look forward to the warmth of the South Australian summer and a chance to slow down and reflect. However I know that as soon as the festive season is over and the jet lag has faded that my computer will beckon and my thoughts will start looking to the next Connecting Spirits tour in 2012. A new batch of kids, some new staff and new Youth Leaders. This just takes over my life …that’s why it’s so hard to say goodbye to each special experience. Thank you to all who travelled on this most wonderful of journeys.
To every member of the group, but especially to the students, thank you for sharing so much of yourselves without fear. You have been a credit to your families, your schools, your communities and your country, but most importantly of all, you have been a credit to yourselves. Have a great Christmas and remember to let those you love know how much they mean.
A POEM FROM A PARENTS PERSPECTIVE: by Judy Appelkamp
1914 on the other side of the world
A fight broke out
The War to end all Wars had began
Thousands of adventurous, impressionable, apprehensive young men
From a small Colony
Farewelled their tear stained Family and Friends
And set sail on a Troop ship
Across the seas to this Foreign Lands
With an odd letter or postcard reaching Family and Friends
They fought the fight
For the Mother Country
Never failing their mates, King or Country
All day and all night
They fought in mud and snow covered soil
Till their blood ran like a river
Soaking the soil in these Foreign Lands
Many were lost
Their souls taken
Never to return to their Family and Friends
And be a part of this Great Land
96 years on
(Nov 20th 2010)
A group of Lads and Ladies
Farewelled their tear stained Family and Friends
Young impressionable, adventurous and apprehensive they all are
On the plane they did board
To leave this Great Land
And fly across the oceans’
To these Foreign Lands
Together they become one
As they walk the soil of this land
They feel the Souls, the Spirit of those young men
Who lost their fight
When their lives came to a bloody end
And now lie forever in Foreign Soil
Never to return to Family and Friends
Connecting Spirits of our young
Connecting with Family and Friends
While they researched and Commemorated
Those lost souls in a Foreign Land
Each will bring a little of their Commemorated Soldier’s Spirit home within
To be shared with Family and Friends
And so once again the Spirit of these young men
Will be part of this great Land
Forever Connecting Spirits of our lost young men
To Family and Friends
The Great Great uncles that I commemorated really did mean something special to me, but there are still so many relatives I want to learn about and their stories of the Great War.
When I first got onto the plane in Adelaide on the 20th of November I had no idea what I was about to experience. I couldn’t remember the names of everyone, and was worried to talk to people in case I got their name wrong. I can’t believe how much changed. By the end of the trip I knew everyone so well (at times a little better than I could ever imagine). Every day the trip went on we learnt a little more about each other. I don’t think I have ever laughed so much in my entire life, but while we were laughing and joking we were there for a much more sombre reason. The mix of emotions was incredible, as we were laughing and having fun on the bus, but as we approached the cemetery’s everyone got quieter and quieter.
I will never be able to forget the freezing temperatures; I could never imagine how cold I felt! It really emphasised the conditions the soldiers had to go through. Whilst I had my woollen stockings, two pairs of men’s explorer socks, and wool lined leather boots, my toes were still going numb. Soldiers had none of this, it is completely unbelievable how they could have possibly survived, I know I couldn’t.
As I have been looking back on the reflections of everyone else we all seem to say the same thing, how close we became as not only a group but as a family. This is definitely not the end for our group, it is just the beginning. Hopefully over the next few months and years we will see each other more, and keep our friendship alive.
When people ask me ‘how was your trip?’ the first thing that comes to mind is ‘yeah it was really good… and cold’ because there is no possible way of explaining what the 25 days with the Connecting Spirits clan were like to someone who hasn’t experienced it. With each new day came another inside joke, memorable stack, emotional commemoration, war time story and another 1000+ photos taken by MJ.
From the first very awkward and unofficial meet and greet at the Irish club for Rita and Flo’s CD launch never did I think that we’d become so close as a group. The diversity and relaxed nature of everyone made it so easy to get along, it’s amazing how this experience brings everyone so close. If the only time you’re alone in 25 days is when you have a shower or go to the toilet, you have to be pretty comfortable with those surrounding you and to be honest I don’t think we could’ve had a better group of people.
Obviously for me having the first commemoration for the trip was very nerve racking and especially because it meant so much to me, I tried to hold back the tears for my great uncle but I couldn’t. When I stood in front of my peers who were all lined up in front of me and I looked out over the headstones I felt honoured and privileged to be given the chance to do this. Not only representing my family, school and community; but our country as well.
It’s amazing how everyone can go from laughing and having a joke on the bus to arriving at the cemetery instantly change their behaviour, when comes down to the core business of what we went to do everyone shows honour, dignity, respect and maturity to these young men who gave their lives for our today.
The two years leading up to this project were pretty full on with fundraising, researching and trying to get to know these new people we’d be spending almost a month with. This along with school, sport and social commitments was a lot to juggle, but we all somehow managed it. In the end it’s all worth it. When Julie first approached me about going on this tour I didn’t say yes because I was worried about money and such, but after some convincing from Cass and support from my parents and friends I joined the Connecting Spirits group and I’m so glad I did. This was the greatest experience I’ve ever had and the people I shared it with made it even more special; not only the kids but also the youth leaders, and Flo, Amanda, Judy, Aunty Lozza, our tour guides, coach driver and most importantly MJ and Julie; you guys do so much for this project and us kids, you put in so much time into preparation into planning so that everything runs smoothly (most of the time anyway), you both have so much knowledge and are genuinely funny and amazing people to be around.
I will never forget this experience and to be honest at the end of the trip I balled my eyes out when I walked out of customs in Adelaide, not only because I saw my Mum and Grandma but because I was leaving behind my new best friends that live 2 hours away. When I got home I sat in my room and for the first time in 25 days I was alone, a strange and scary feeling. I’ve been home for just over 2 and a half weeks and I miss everyone like crazy already. It’s funny how attached you become to these people after only 25 days of friendship, you end up feeling like you’ve known them for a lifetime. Lucky everyone now has facebook, even Chris B! not that he knows how to use it yet…
To those considering going on the 2012 trip I would definitely recommend it. The people you meet, the friends you make, the places you see, the snow, the many bowls of soup, the different smells, races, religions and languages, and the life skills and lessons you learn I feel are something that will stick with me for the rest of my life. Connecting Spirits will always remain a memory I hold close to my heart. It’s the best adventure I’ve ever had.
Connecting Spirits 2010 was a great trip, with great people and once in a lifetime experiences. The thing that I will miss the most is the people on the trip as I don't get to see any of them as I live in Clare. I will miss all the fun that we had together as a group and also how we were all together when someone needed the rest of the group. The thing I don't miss is the plane flights; they were pretty boring and bumpy and weren’t that comfortable. Some of the best times that I had on the trip were the noodle party, the thesis book (which was terrific) and Cass and Chelsea's poem. The things that were the most memorable and the most special were saying the ode with Lina at the Menin Gate which was pretty nerve racking but it was also an honour to do it in front of all those people and for all those names upon the walls. There were three other things that have stuck in my mind from the trip the most, the first of which was Molly's commemoration on her great, great uncle. I know it was special to me as I had a tear in my eye when she was talking. Another special moment for me was Tim's commemoration on John George Eckert as it was snowing so much and Tim kept composed even though the wind and snow were a tad chilly. But this was also a relative of Tim's and he got through it all very well. These two moments were some of the most special in my life because Tim is like a brother to me and Molly has been one of my closest friends for so long. However, the most special moment that I had on the trip was commemorating my great, great, great uncle Thomas Anthony Spurr, standing there in the snow reading my commemoration I couldn't hold my tears in at all half way through I just started crying. I kept on trying to stop at least until I got through my commemoration; I just couldn't. Reading through Mum’s poem at the end of my commemoration made it even worse; I just couldn't think clearly and didn't think that anyone would be able to understand me, but that didn't matter everyone helped me when I needed them to.
Dylan van den Brink
As I lie hear at home by myself I miss all those who were part of the Connecting Spirits group. It seemed like only yesterday that I was with my Connecting Spirits family (And I really do mean family). We all ate together, traveled together, laughed together, and slept under the same roof. I really feel a strong emotional attachment to everyone in the group and am genuinely suffering withdrawal symptoms after the few short weeks I have spent away. We all seemed to gel perfectly without awkward introductions and forced friendships. Like a family, we all added a different dimension to the group with personalities and with our soldier commemorations.
I guess if the group is a family then Julie and Mal are the parents (Julie wears the pants). They were instrumental in keeping all 18 kids who were constantly fluctuating between being over stimulated and emotionally drained, focused on the job they had at hand. I didn’t know Julie before this trip but I have definitely seen another side to the Meningie teachers Mal and Lorraine. From stories of past trips and my own observation it appears Lorraine (or auntie Lozza which she has been dubbed by Julie) seems to adopt another personality when on the trip. She surprised me with her confidence and knowledge of airports and her ability to adapt with overseas customs. She really came out of her shell as a real fun loving and outgoing person which I would never know about had it not have been for this trip. Mr Jurgs on the other hand showed a very strong spiritual side which had much influence on me. Seeing the way he goes about this trip really shows how strongly he feels towards the diggers, especially his great uncle.
I have only recently understood the magnitude of what our little group has done and the effect that it has had on the community. Ever since my return, nearly everyone that I know and some people that I don’t know have been asking me how my trip was and what I really enjoyed. I have been stopped numerous times on the street or at work by people in the community, telling me that they have been following us on the website and it really struck me that so many people in our community were interested in our work.
Only after the trip have I got a true understanding of what the Connecting Spirits was really about. After allowing for a few weeks to settle I look upon what I have done with different eyes. A prime example was just before departing Paris at the end of the trip. I was contemplating leaving my coat behind as it was not going to fit in my suitcase and I couldn’t see me wearing something like that in ‘everyday life’. I now am glad that I did not leave it behind as my Connecting Spirits clothes now hold pride of place in my wardrobe and I cannot wait to don them again at Anzac and Remembrance Day ceremonies as well as any future Connecting Spirits events. I did not understand that it wasn’t about the clothing itself, but what the clothing represents.
As far as the travel aspect is concerned, being overseas has also changed my view of the world. Whilst in Europe I was dazzled by the rich history that all the countries had. You could not turn a corner over there without seeing a historic landmark or famous battlefield. The streets of Paris were littered with sculptures of famous emperors or philosophers, whist in London there seemed to be a famous building on every street. Every day I think about the great times that I have had on my journey. I am entirely happy with how everything turned out for me. I have no regrets and am glad to know that when the opportunity arose to try something new and unique to a foreign culture I have taken it without hesitation. This trip has given me a good taste for travel, from there I have been and from there I long to return!
Ever since I got back I have occasionally been thinking about the memories of the 25 days in Europe. The trip was not what I expected it to be, it was better!! It was amazing to see how different the towns and the country side are compared to Australia. During my commemorations I felt different from normal. As I was standing behind my soldier’s grave, commemorating him, it made me realise what he fought and died for. I also felt the same when I was listening to the rest of the group commemorate their soldiers. The history that we learnt over the 25 days was very interesting, and the group that I spent the 25 days with was amazing. I would have never thought I was going to be as relaxed around them; it was like they were my brothers or sisters. When the trip came to an end I didn’t want to leave because I enjoyed seeing new places every day and being around a big family. But I also missed my real family which made easier to say good bye to the 2010 group. I would love to do the trip as a group leader. I would recommend others to do it because it’s a once in a life time chance to see Europe with a fantastic group. Jake
Occasionally I have caught myself sitting on the couch at home by myself thinking about the memories of the 25 days in Europe. It always amazes me that a bunch of teenagers who didn’t know each other became a family. We share many memories together that will last forever. The relaxed atmosphere of our group made the trip enjoyable and I think it may have helped Jurgsy and Julie cope as well. The thing I miss about the whole trip is the sense of adventure, going to new places everyday, meeting new people and that. Thinking about it now I realise, “Wow, I was overseas in England last month!” It is really hard for it to sink in. But when we were there it was amazing, the traveling, the groups approach to the history of the war and enjoying the free time. This trip in my mind has chanced each one of us and has allowed us to be more appreciative of what the diggers did for us during the Great War.
Having been on the Connecting Spirits trip in 2008 I felt that this experience would be something similar, however, although I do not want to compare the two trips, I found them different and exciting in their own ways. Something that I felt touched me and the group, that I did not experience in 2008, was the interaction with the Sutton Veny school kids and having a fun game of football. It was good to be able to talk to the kids and throw the ball around without the language barrier that was present in 2008 at the Villers-Bretonneux School. I think that having this connection with the school, through the soldiers that came from our part of the world and ended their days in this village, was amazingly moving as well as fun and something that should definitely be continued. I was disappointed that we weren’t able to interact with the VB students but that was something that couldn’t have been helped.
Looking back it seems that the 25 days we spent overseas went by so quickly. Sometimes the days slipped by so fast that I could not put a name to al lthe emotions I experienced. Everyday brought a new joke, a closer friendship, a stronger family, a new emotion. Never in those days did I feel alone as I had a new sister or brother to talk to. One of my favourite memories was the first leg of the plane trip we ever had. It was quiet and everyone sat nervously anticipated the next three and half weeks and what it would bring. None of us could possibly know the relations we would feel with the others in only a matter of days. Travelling to these faraway places made me realise the true destruction that the Great War brought to the world. Seeing the masses of gravestones in the cemeteries showed how much the war destroyed families. Soldiers as young as the other teenagers on the trip were out defending their countries. What I've read in books will never compare to the firsthand experience I felt. Connecting Spirits is one of the most memorable experiences that I've ever had. When I go to write my Year 12 profile I will list it as one of my favourite memories of Birdwood High. It helped me to bond with people that I have been with all through my schooling but had never talked to, or bond with people from a different school. I work at the General Store in Mt Pleasant and upon my return many of the regulars asked a lot of questions about the trip, they found it very interesting and were pleased that there were still kids who were taking an interest in history today.
I would like to thank Julie and Jurgsy for working so hard to put everything together and giving me the opportunity to be part of this trip. Chelsea xx
‘At the going down of the sun, And in the morning we will remember them’
I really don’t remember how many times over the extent of this whole trip that our group said those words and at the time you sometimes just said them, without thinking about their meaning. But looking back now these words encapsulate just what the trip was, and not just the trip but the whole project. In just choosing which soldiers you are going to commemorate, be they relatives or just a local soldier from a memorial we chose to remember them.
For me the greatest part of this experience was the research. I learnt about people I have never known, and I will never know their full life story but just being able to know this little bit about them makes me feel so much closer to them. This trip has also led me to explore my family history and find out about family members that I never even knew I had.
And what makes this trip so great is its diversity. No two people on this trip were the same and they all brought their own unique to the trip. Also with every person comes their soldiers and how they choose to commemorate them. That was also a great enjoyment for me, being able to share my great, great, great uncle and a bit of the Canadian story with the group. That will be something I will never forget and I know it was such a great thing for my family both here and in Canada as no one has ever been to the grave and I was just so pleased that I could do that for all of them.
I found coming back life was just as busy as when I left it and I was quickly back in to the life that I got to leave behind for those 3 ½ weeks and even though by the end of those weeks we were ready for the family and friends that we had left behind, those cold, snowy, fun and sometimes hard days that I had will not be forgotten as I have made too many memories and friends for it to be lost.
I feel it hasn’t 100% hit me what I actually did. The time absolutely flew.
If only I could have slowed it down, or re-trace some of those breathtaking spots!
My mission was to go to France / Belgium to commemorate Archibald Amber & Frank Oliver Loaders resting places.
I had spent an awful lot of time researching the Loader family history in the two year build up to the trip. Frank’s remains were identified using DNA, and reburied in the new Fromelles Cemetery. I was to be the first of the family to visit the new site, covered in snow and the temperature 4 degrees below freezing. After telling my story about Frank and his family back home, the church bells chimed twice, it was a very moving commemoration and a fitting end to all the work leading up to this moment.
I was also lucky enough to visit Franks brother, Percival’s grave, the same day.
I have all the photos of his grave site printed off and we will be having a get together with the Loader Family in a couple of week’s time, so I can tell them all about it.
I found that Archibald Amber’s resting place was not far from Ieper where we stayed, shopped and socialised. I felt really chuffed to have commemorated his grave site, especially after he was commemorated by a student on the 2008 trip.
Now I am back at work with my feet running before they’ve hit the ground, thinking and feeling it was so long ago that we were all overseas. Every now and then something reminds me of what we saw, Ieper, Singapore, Menin Gate, snow, the cold, Paris not forgetting the Belgium chocolate and wishing that I was still there! Thanks for the memories !!!
I have been putting my write up off for ages now, I think because - I don’t know where to begin although somewhat also because - I don’t want to end it, yet I guess this wasn’t an ending, it was just the beginning, a stepping stone. This trip has just opened up many doors and provided much experience, knowledge and friendships.
It’s amazing to see how far we have come from the awkward catch up to almost instantly becoming a big comfortable family. It was crazy to see everyone making a joke and having a laugh to stepping off the bus and everyone going to dead silences when it came down to the serious stuff.
Connecting Spirits has awakened my respect for life, my appreciation and gratitude to the soldiers who gave their lives so we can have all what we have today.
I find myself evaluating situations, where as previously I would just complain about the simplest things. I never realised how lucky I am. I’m thankful in so many ways about where I live and what I have.
When you’re sitting around listening to the tour guide, you can’t help but replay in your head about how you thought the surroundings were during the war, the noise they heard every day, the dead bodies around them, makes you question your own questions.
When I thought “What would it be like commemorating a soldier?” I had no idea what to expect but after my first few I realised, you never really know... Every soldier has their own story and the emotion felt different each commemoration.
When talking to older citizens they’re always so amazed the young children are still interested in the war, they love hearing stories as I love hearing theirs’.
I thoroughly enjoyed the trip and now would love to go back and do it again... plus more!