Another 9am start and this time we were met by Jackie as a guide as Rod was otherwise occupied. After 4 trips with Rod as our only battlefield guide, it was a bit strange to have someone different, but Jackie brought a different style and it was good to get another perspective on things. Our first cemetery visit was at Daours where Verity commemorated a soldier. From there we went to the Adelaide Cemetery in Villers-Bretonneux where she had another soldier to commemorate. This was the first visit for me to this cemetery and one that I was looking forward to. Not only was it named after my home city, but it was also from this cemetery that the Unknown Soldier, who is now buried in Canberra, was exhumed and taken back to Australia. From here we moved to the Australian National Memorial in Villers-Bretonneux where we commemorated 11 soldiers. This memorial contains the names of the almost 11000 Australian soldiers killed in France and who have no known grave. Add to this the almost 1200 names on the VC Corner Memorial in Fromelles and the 5500 names at the Menin Gate in Ieper and you start to realize the impact that this had on Australia at that time. This is the largest number that we will commemorate in one place on this trip and so it was a big moment. For many of our group it was also the first time that they would commemorate a soldier. As we went through the service, a cold chill drifted across the fields and the temperature dropped significantly but all maintained their focus and all went as planned. After some time to look for individual soldiers and have photos taken with their names, we moved into the Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery where Josh commemorated his first soldier. By the time we headed back to the bus our boots and jeans were covered in Somme mud, much to Richard’s despair.
Today I commemorated my 2nd and 3rd soldiers at our service at the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial. At the beginning of the service we played a song written by the 2006 group member, Flo Bourke. Immediately you could sense the emotion amongst the group…. When it came to my turn to commemorate I was freezing. Even though I had 6 layers on, gloves, scarf and beanie, the cold still penetrated …During my commemoration I kept thinking what if this was my brother, Dad or Granddad and how would that have affected me. Even now as I sit on the bus my fingers and toes are still numb.
Today has just been another eye-opener. Mr. Jurgs’ commemoration really was something special. The way he knew the information off by heart was amazing. The service we did today was another memorable moment for the close family we have now made. Anne and her voice when she sings our National Anthem brings a sense of pride to me and also a tear to my eye. Alana played the Last Post and instantly emotions overwhelm me. Today was extremely cold, which yet again reminds me of the conditions that the soldiers faced. Such a touching and emotional day for our group.
Today was special for me because it was the day that I did my first commemoration. Walking up to the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial for the first time and walking through the rows and rows of graves was so sad. Then seeing the big memorial and starting to realize actually how big this war was and how many names were carved into the stone there was breathtaking. While doing my commemoration I felt the lump in my throat as I got extremely moved by the letters that James sent back and the one that his best mate sent back to his mother. It was a truly touching and emotionally draining day but one that I will never forget.
Huge day of commemorations. Amazing to have history right in front of you as if it happened yesterday. For example the bullet holes from World war 2 that still are visible on the memorial.
Listening to Flo's song echoing around the cemetery as we stood in the bitter cold on teh steps of the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial was very moving. Looking up at the wall that was full of names from top to bottom the whole way around, and knowing that two of my soldiers names were up there made me further realize the importance and meaning of me commemorating these two brave soldiers on behalf of their families back home in Australia.
My final two commemorations were today, Percy George Stott and Walter Jones. The scale of the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial was huge. Listening to all of the commemorations and looking at all of the names on the wall made me shed a tear. After when we visited Walter’s grave I was so nervous about his as he is the only soldier that I have a family connection with. I hope I commemorated him with the respect and honour that he deserves.
Walking around the headstones and knowing that one of them is the brave hero that I had come to gain a close connection with is chilling. Once I saw the encraving "H. E. Parkinson", my gaze was glued to the white stone and the feeling I felt is inexplicable. To see the headstone is far more meaningful than seeing the name on a website or written on a page. Once I had read out my speech, I felt numb and cold, colder than the cool air did. After I walked away and got back onto the bus, I felt guilty in the fact that I didn't do enough to honour this man who gave everything for us and that I could walk back onto a warm heated bus and he was in far worse inescapable conditions. I wanted to go back as soon as I walked away, but knew nothing I could do would be enough to thank or truely commemorate this Australian hero.
Holding the flag at our VB service, I could hear the emotion in the voices of those doing their commemorations. And as person after person came up I wondered what it wouldbe like if the families could be there to tell the stories of their soldiers just as we are. We would be there for a lifetime!!
To hold the flag at Villers Bretonneux was quite emotional for me. It didn’t feel right. As all my soldiers have a grave, I found it incomprehensible that all these names have no known grave. Essentially, a name on stone is all there is.
After our commemorations at the memorial we made our way to the local school where we had lunch in the hall before looking through the museum there. We the travelled to Hangard where Marni did her third commemoration for the day.
I just performed my commemoration for David Carman. He was the only soldier that I am commemorating that has a grave that we have been able to visit. I think that actually seeing his headstone made it so much more real. Until this point I never really understood the emotion and sadness from other group members. But as I stood over his headstone I finally related to the others. I was suddenly overwhelmed with a myriad of feelings… I cannot imagine the courage it would have taken to travel overseas to fight in a war that would ultimately take his life. It was definitely something that I could not have done myself. As I walked from the cemetery mud caked my shoes. I cannot comprehend how they survived in these conditions. His inscription on the headstone read “He gave his life for freedom”. I am proud to have been able to commemorate my fallen diggers who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Then off to the last commemoration of the day at Fouquescourt British Cemetery where Amy conducted her last commemoration as mentioned above. We were meant to do one more visit today but due to the emotion charged service and the cold weather it was decided to postpone that until tomorrow and let the group get some well earned rest.
Today was a very draining and emotional day. Looking at the list of 17 commemorations on our itinerary was daunting, however every story was intriguing and touched me. Again, I was struck down by my emotions when commemorating Richard Leonard Williams. After a very tasty lunch prepared by Jackie, we visited to the Australian Museum in Villers-Bretonneux. A very beautiful museum which I felt honoured the Australian War Soldiers beautifully.
The Villers-Bretonneux day is always a big one in the CS itinerary due to the huge numbers of our soldiers that we commemorate here reflecting the significance of this place in the AIF history. And as in previous years the weather was a real challenge. It was freezing…that bone piercing cold that you get before the snow actually falls. Unlike 2010 the snow had not yet started but it was on its way and standing for nearly an hour in these conditions was a real challenge for us all. Yet despite this and as it has always happened with the young people of Connecting Spirits over the years, it never impacts on the quality and sincerity of their acts of remembrance: in fact it heightens what they do. As in previous years these kids did not miss a beat. 2012 would be different from the previous three CS tours: this is the first year Flo Bourke was not on tour sharing her music at these key locations. It did feel strange at first not to have her with us but with the use of a portable CD player, she was with here in spirit again. Her song ‘Commemoration Story’ was written after she visited VB in 2006 and today we began our ceremony with that song. It was so right and gave an evocative prelude to the accounts of the 2012 soldiers’ stories. The accounts of loss, grief, suffering and sacrifice were beautifully told, evidence of the depth of the research undertaken by everyone. I felt so proud of all of them; they are such lovely young people. I didn’t see the final stages as one of the girls nearly fainted with the cold and I took her back to the coach down that long hill to get her back into the warmth of Bessie and a hot coffee to revive her. I think I still had ten toes intact! It was cold. We had planned to include Hamel and the Monash Memorial today in the afternoon but as it was so bitterly cold and wet decided to re-schedule that to first thing tomorrow.