Day 6 12th April. The Somme 1918. Villers-Bretonneux – Le Hamel – Dernancourt
Today we were joined by Meningie Area School music teacher Rod Williams and his wife Maxine, who are holidaying in France. Rod agreed to play the Last Post for us at our ceremony at Villers-Bretonneux later in the day, so they met us our hotel and spent the day on Bessie the Bus with us. , Our day started with a visit to the village of Villers-Bretonneux. This village was occupied by the German Army on the 24th April, and its presence there was a threat to the city of Amiens, which if captured would have enabled the Germans to control the major transport hub and seriously threaten the Allies’ ability to maintain its armies in the field. A counter-attack was launched late that night and by the morning of the third Anzac Day, the town was once again in the hands of the British Army, thanks to the sterling work of battalions from the Australian 13th and 15th Brigades. After the war the devastated town’s school and Town Hall were rebuilt with donations made by Victorian school children. For the part played by Australians in the recapture of their town and in appreciation of the generosity of the citizens of Victoria, the school maintains a sign in its playground asking that the children “Do Not Forget Australia”. We were able to pay visit to see this sign although not necessarily with the approval of the authorities in charge. We then visited Adelaide Cemetery for 2 commemorations. It was from this cemetery that the remains of the unknown soldier who now rests in the Australian War Memorial in Canberra was taken.
The feeling of commemorating a soldier is one that is very hard to explain. Walking towards the grave you have mixed emotions, fear being the main one. But as soon as you open your mouth to speak the life story of you soldier, your whole world comes crashing down. It doesnt matter if you have a personal connection with them or not, in that moment you are more than just a person commemorating a soldier, you are Family. Ralph Innes Drummond will forever be in my heart. Lest we forget.
It was then a short drive to the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux where 3 more commemorations completed. It was here that Rod played the Last Post and having someone there to play it live for us was special and is greatly appreciated by the whole group. This memorial has the names of about 10770 Australian soldiers who fell in France but have no known grave. The weather was spectacular and the central tower was open so we could climb to the top and take in the stunning views.
The experience of commemorating my soldier George Leslie Grinter at the Villers Bretonneux Memorial was absolutley heart felt and amazing. I felt honoured to be commemorating him at this beautiful memorial and as soon as we arrived, I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. It was so beautiful and peaceful and sharing his story was amazing. George Leslie Grinter, you will be forever in our hearts and will never be forgotten. Seeing your name here made me feel connected to you and this goes to show you do not have to be related to feel a connection with your soldier.
Lest We Forget.
It was near lunch time and this time we sat in the glorious sunshine on the lawns of the Australian Army Corps Memorial at Le Hamel, the site of one of General John Monash’s most successful battles. By using infantry, tanks and aircraft in a fully integrated manner he was able to achieve victory more efficiently than had been possible earlier in the war.
We then drove along the old Roman road between Amiens and Peronne to Heath Cemetery where Kiera had three commemorations, including her own great grandfather, Thomas Walker, and 2 indigenous soldiers who both won the Military Medal, Harry Thorpe and William Rawlings.
Today when I started my commemoration I really believed I would be able to finish without getting emotional . But getting to the point about where Thomas James had died I really started to feel the emotion he felt and I was overcome with a sense of pride and closure. I will hold that moment close to my herat forever.
A quick -turn and the back toward Amiens, passing the crash site of the Red Baron, and the 3rd Divisional Memorial, stopping at Dernancourt for our final commemoration of the day. We also visited the school in this small village, which like the school at Villers-Bretonneux was rebuilt with money from school children, this time South Australian. The hall is known as the Pavilion Adelaide and the connection extends to the suburb on the Lower North east Rd in Adelaide with the same name.
This morning we were at Villers Bretonneux cemetery and memorial to our missing Australian soldiers. I was standing looking at names on the walls and was overcome by a sense of peace. With the sun shining and the birds singing to see my daughter commemorate her soldier was a very moving moment. I had a sense of connection to her soldier.
The most beautiful, peaceful place in the world – April 2015…One hundred years prior this place would have been hell on earth.
Today I commemorated a very important soldier named Gordon Rigney. Reading about his story was very special and I was more than proud to have commemorated him today. This was my highlight.
Today listening to a few people doing their commemorations was so inspiring and emotional to listen to. I’m keen to do my commemoration but am feeling really nervous about talking in front of a lot of people . However I am going to do it for Cyril.
A man a soldier
One of Australia’s best.
Young…fit…your whole life to live
Foreign shores, duty called you went to war.
Now you lie in foreign ground
The guns now silent not a sound.
The wind among the gravestones forever whispers
We will not forget.
Tamara Mcenteggart- Larsen
The faith and courage it would have taken to do this. This is why I came. To bring a little of my peace and memories…peace given by them. I want to give them what they left behind. I want them to know that their sacrifice, their name and their stories have not been forgotten …that we will remember them.
‘Distance divides but memory clings…RIP’
This makes me think about how far from home these young men were. So young and possibly the first time away from home. They left their families, their loves, their friends, work peace and security …everything they knew and cherished they left behind never to use it again.
‘Father in thy gracious keeping leave we now our loved one sleeping’.
This is such a beautiful statement because it gets me into a deep thought about how the family was feeling when they got the message saying their loved one had passed away.
Today we heard the stories of 3 soldiers at Villers-Bretonneux by 3 young women:
As the crisp air hit us so did the harsh reality of this devastating war and how unfair it really was 100 years ago.
Losing your friends, brothers, fathers, husbands...
Quite often I ask myself, How did they possibly deal with the losses.
We hear such large numbers of soldiers who were wounded, killed and missing - but that doesn't really hit you until you are over here, standing on the grounds that hold thousands of the spirits of the missing, the blood from the wounded and the cries from fellow soldiers.