Day 19, 25 th April - ANZAC DAY IN LONDON
On that special day in April, the 2015 Connecting Spirits group of 30 students and adults from Meningie Area School, Findon High School, Mannum Community College, Lameroo Regional School and Unity College completed a three week pilgrimage to the former WW1 battlefields of the western front. The fitting end to this amazing journey was Anzac Day in London on the centenary of that fateful landing on the shores of Gallipoli on April 25, 1915.
4.00 am...London hotel Anzac Day 2015...the day began with bleary eyed travelers gathering in the hotel ready for the walk to the Australian War Memorial in Hyde Park. Normally it would only be a 15 minute stroll but due to the massive numbers attending the service and the extensive security checks in place, it took nearly an hour to enter the area of the service. Young Aussie and Kiwi expats were everywhere along with members of the military, political and Royal family. It was a huge event one that followed on one hour from the mirror ceremony on the Gallipoli peninsula and of course 8-9 hours after all those Dawn Services back home and across the globe. On that morning Australians, New Zealanders, British, Turks and many other nationalities were linked in the common thread of commemoration and remembrance. It was very special that morning to see the sun peak over the London skyline and to begin a day that will always be remembered by our group.
The programme for the day included another service at the Cenotaph in Westminster at 11.00 am but we were advised by the Australian High Commission that in order to get to the Westminster Abbey service at 1.00 pm we should not attend the Cenotaph. So with our highly prized tickets to the Abbey in hand along with our passports (EVERYONE attending had to undergo a passport check prior to attending the service) our smartly dressed group in their unifying maroon blazers, white shirts and navy ties (each with the CS logo and the 5 schools' names on the tie) were lined up ready to enter the most famous cathedral in London..possibly the world. This thousand plus year old building was awash with history...it was the place of coronations, Royal weddings, funerals, and of course the resting place of Britain's WW1 unknown soldier. This place is overwhelming. By 11.45 we were an in excellent position right behind where the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh would later take their seats. As well we had a large screen to view the Abbey front on..we would miss NOTHING of the service. While waiting the choir sang , the glorious organ filled the space with music in anticipation of the main event. And then for our group came a VERY special moment: indigenous performer Chris Williams from Queensland stepped up front and centre of the Abbey in traditional dress and proceeded to play the didgeridoo for 30 amazing minutes. I hadn't told the kids this was happening as i wanted it to be a surprise - it was wonderful . That night I asked Trae Rigney what that moment was like for him as a young Ngarrindjeri man to be a part of...he replied...'Jules I shut my eyes..lent back and could see and feel the Coorong. I never thought I would hear part of my people's culture like that in that famous place.' (Trae had tears in his eyes...I shared his emotions..)
Sitting next to me bursting with excitement was Nathan from Findon High. His legs were swinging back and forward just like the little kids do when they are beside themselves...his smile covered his face the whole time. He whispered...'Julie when will it start? I can't wait!' Then a bit later...'Julie..isn't this place so beautiful...will it start soon?' And on it went for the hour leading up to the entrance of the Queen. I thought Nathan would burst when he saw the Queen entered...'She's so short!'...and a bit later...'Hey Jules..I am sitting in the same room as the Queen!!!!' PRICELESS! I know I had the best seat in the house that day experiencing the pure joy of a 15 year old lad in what was probably the biggest day of his life. Thank you Nathan for that pearl of a memory. I have retold that story to my friends and family and it is one of those jewels that will stay with me forever.
And so our day of centenary commemoration was complete. We had one final night in the city that never sleeps and the next day prior to the long haul flight home. This tour had been complicated, difficult and full of challenges along the way but once we left Adelaide on April 7 the moulding of a family began to unfold. As we walked to the farewell dinner that night kids were arm in arm, country kids linked with city kids...kids from communities spanning our state...some would say kids with not a lot in common. Oh how that changed in that 3 week journey. Two girls hugged each other, Sophie from Findon, Courtney from Meningie...'We don't want it to end! We don't want to let each other go!'
It won't end as it lives on in the hearts and minds of those who were part of that family of 30 and with Facebook and other social media links the kids are already wanting a reunion. Like so many other Connecting Spirits members from 2006 on, many new friendships formed while on tour have survived distance and time united by that common thread that is Connecting Spirits. Because of the success of the 2015 links between the 5 schools, the leadership teams of Meningie and Findon have decided to join again and hopefully begin an ongoing tradition of friendship between their diverse communities.
Anzac ceremony at the Westminster abbey. Was a bloody beauty, I loved it. Listening to didgeridoo at the start, the feeling I got, I closed my eyes and it felt like I was home again, it was truly remarkable and and the sounds of birds and and other animals he made whilst playing was unexplainable.
Westminster Abbey- after the Queen and the Duke left how good was the feeling of filing out of the Abbey and everyone else either side were still sitting waiting for us to go through!
We had an early morning today as we attended the Hyde Park Dawn Servicel It was amazing to be attend such a service with members of the Royal Family. Later on we had the honour of attending the Westminster Abbey service with the Queen and Prince Phillip.
Being able to take part in the Dawn Service today was very special to me. Seeing all those people from different countries come together the way they did was so touching. I hope that we can continue this tradition and all stand as one as we remember our glorious dead. After the Dawn Service Jami lee and I were asked to stay behind to do an interview with the BBC. I was a bit nervous but after the first few questions it was easy.They asked us why Anzac Day was important to us and I replied that it is a day when we become one with the New Zealanders and England and remember all those brave men and women who fought for our country. I also added how proud i was to be Ngarrindjeri and told the reporter about the 21 Ngarrindjeri soldiers and about Rufus Rigney. I hope our story gets shown around the world!