Where do I even begin to explain the journey I have just been on? Simply life changing! I have difficulty describing the things I experienced and saw. I was so nervous about starting this trip not knowing anyone and being the only person from Lameroo to take part in the project howvever it was the best thing for me to do. I haven't just made friends, but now I have a family that I love dearly and mean so much to me. I have benefitted so much from taking this journey across Europe and England and I am still in shock that I actually had the opportunity to take part. The best thing about the trip was probably getting to commemorate John William Fielding. That moment touched me so deeply and changed me in many ways.I love that I now have 16 best friends that I have seen grow and mature throughout the duration of the tour. We all laughed together and were there to comfort one another in times of sadness. I believe that this is the most important value we all have in common. I know that I am going to miss everyone so much and I hope that the memories we all have will last forever. I know that this is the end of the trip but it is not the end of these beautiful friendships and bonds we have with each other and Jurgsy and Julie. If we didn't have these people I don't know what we woudl have done without them. They made such an impact. I was touched in many ways knowing what these WW1 men and women did for our country and those countries we visited. It was very emotional watching everyone in tears as they did their commemorations. I hope the reunion we have been talking about happens as I look forward to seeing everyone again. I would like to thank all of the adults who helped to make the trip happen and a massive thanks to Jurgsey and Julie...I love you both for making this happen and giving us the opportunity to take this on. I hope to see you again next year as a Youth Leader as i want to pass this onto others.
I have been trying to put into words what is so special about the Connecting Spirits trip. Apart from the obvious - like fabulous comraderie amongst the group and friendship and the wonderful scenery and food along the way. There is of course the opportunity to commemorate a family member or someone with a connection to you in a host of other ways. I spent a lot of time gazing out the window of the plane ,bus or ferry wondering if " my soldier " saw the same sights along their journey to the battlefields or if they were very lucky and be on their way home .
From looking at so many headstones in the war cemeteries it is clear that nationality , gender , cultural back ground , social standing , age and rank meant little; they were all just as dead .
The up side of this is that those years of the First World War and the years just following bought about some very positive social changes.
Walking around the towns and cities on the tour I have been reminded how incredibly lucky and privileged we are to be living in our country - Australia - at this time in history.
The other heartening thing is the way that the young people on the tour rose to every occasion and worked and played well as a team looking out for others and taking their commemorations very seriously .
Seeing the Burial of the 6 missing soldiers at Prowse Point right next to the Christmas Truce Memorial was a very moving experience that brought the past into the present.
Hearing the "Flowers of the Forest " played at the Menin Gate made me struggle to keep my composure as I closed my eyes and could only see the faces of the four Aussies that I was commemorating .Sutton Veny township and school was an absolute gem and the people so genuine in their engagement with their WW1 Anzac legacy that seems even today to define them.
Throughout the trip I've spoken to everybody and I've seen everybody's weakness and strength. A lot didn't like speaking in front of people but they stood up in front of everyone and got over their weakness and put it as their strength. The beautiful quote my fellow young friend said, the day I did my commemoration for my uncle Rufus Rigney. "Even though it doesn’t have it engraved on the headstones, all of these men won the Victoria Cross to me." How incredible is that, how amazing from a young boy who is going to be a great adult I can see that he is going to have an amazing future!! And I sure hope to be contact with him to help support that
Julie asked me "How does this trip and everything that we have seen make you feel?" This was the very first time in my life where I have struggled for words and actually had nothing to say. I mumbled and thought real hard about my choice of words and nothing would come out. I stood there and suddenly I managed to say "this trip is an eye opener, it's given me more appreciation for my life and my families life. I couldn't imagine how I would feel if one of my family members or my close friends from school enlisted and went through what these young boys went through, it's unspeakable.
The place i will remember most on this trip is Thiepval. When we arrived and started walking towards it, I didn't even realise how big it was. Once we sat on the steps and Julie started talking about it and a book she's read about Thiepval, which now I really want to read, It got me thinking. I looked behind her and saw all of those names and it hit me like a ton of bricks. We had some free time to walk around, so I walked away from the group and sat on my own for a bit. I looked up at thousands and thousands of names then closed my eyes and thought. I tried to imagine how I would feel if my brother or my Dad went off to war and never came home and remains were never found; I started tearing up. That's the moment when I realised that this trip would open my eyes to things I have chose not to think about my whole life.
Just another thing I wanted to share was the amount of people who stopped to take a look at our commemoration cards at Hyde Park! Being there and watching all those different people stop and take a look just made me realise how special it is to me, I want everyone one to know what we have all done while on connecting spirits! I didn't realise how much this trip would mean to me, but now I feel as though I view ANZAC day and Remembrance day and all those special occasions in a whole different perspective!! Even though we are ending this trip I won't stop caring and taking part in dawn services and Anzac services and even coming back and be a part of Connecting Spirits again!!
Being on this trip has finally made me realize that it is very important to acknowledge & respect our Aboriginal/Ngarrindjeri & Non-Aboriginal soldiers who went to war for us & for our country. I am speechless with how many memorials & cemeteries I’ve seen, there’s that many I’ve lost count already. It is an amazing once in a lifetime experience & a lot to take in. It does get very emotional when seeing or even doing a commemoration yourself. I never ever thought I’d cry while doing mine, it’s just I felt this sadness where I was while commemorating one of my own family members. It’s just honestly one of the best & most adventurous experiences I have ever been on & am so damn proud I went on this trip.
On behalf of everyone, I would love to thank Julie Reece for all her hard & kind work she puts into this trip, it is a lot but she got through it well with our Driver Richard, thanks for everything. You've done & put up with our loudness & rubbish we've made you clean up haha. Also would like to thank our leaders Mollie Sandercock & Tamika Williams for everything & their hard work as well. You girls did really well & I’m proud of you like heaps haha! Thanks to Isabell for coming on the trip with us, you helped me a lot by not reminding me about my family back at home! Never once was I home sick haha! & A huge thankyou to Mr Jurgs & all of his amazing & hard work honestly without you I wouldn't even be on this trip, you absolutely done an amazing work with us and Jules. Thank you all & I hope I do it again soon.
Memories fade as you grow old. Traumas you encounter in your life are there but tucked away in the dark recesses, never forgotten, just filed away, waiting. This trip has pulled one of those files from those dark recesses and opened it once again. As a child I remember some of those old soldiers from the " Great War " They didn't want to talk and we all know why not. Slaughter on that scale had never been seen before. Seeing the thousands upon thousands of headstones, rows upon rows, endless lists of names, regiments, battles, monuments is overwhelming. Listening to the individual stories makes the story more personal, human and more tragic. Walking amongst the graves, searching, chest tightening, tears welling, looking and trying to understand how this could have happened. What a waste.
"Where have all the flowers gone?" will have new meaning. Future remembrance services will be different. Most of the knowledge and pain will be filed away again. The sacrifice of the individual soldier should be commemorated, their stories told, never to be forgotten.
Random thoughts......Anzac Day. Dawn service at Hyde Park followed by Westminster Cathedral commemoration. A once in a lifetime experience. Breathless. - How can we not be optimistic.
Seeing the Sutton Veny children singing joyously, speaking confidently and carefully placing the flowers on the graves of the soldiers buried there was extremely moving. Angelic faces, caring, respectful.
There have been so many fantastic moments to remember. The re burial of the 6 lost soldiers, meticulous folding of the flag on the coffins.
The Menin Gate at Ypres. 30,000 nightly commemorations and still counting.
All that have fallen are still being remembered. Their sacrifice, their suffering understood.
This trip and the many experiences will affect this group of young people in so many positive ways for the rest of their lives.
Don't be fearful, soak up all of life's magnificence, be the best you can.
It's been great meeting you Mal. Your knowledge and passion has shone on this trip. Thank you.
Three weeks ago I along with 30 other Australians set off on a journey of friendships, education, emotion, acknowledgement and respect. Our heros who were commemorated would have been proud and right beside our students, teachers, and parents. Each and everyone of them were special, feeling it on their words with almost everytime trying to hold back tears. The stories of bravery, unselfishness, courage, and heroic duties are amazing. To see the number of Australians in these cemeteries and memorials so far away from home being recognised and respected made me proud knowing they fought for us. However it also made me sad that so many lost their lives. I am in my 30's and I will be honest: it has only been in the last 9 years I have been out to the Dawn Services and understand what I am there for. As something that Trae said in his commemoration for our uncle Rufus Rigney, that he was told it was a 'white man's war'. I grew up being told the same thing and for some good reason we would be told this. In saying this the truth and stories are now being told be special people like our friend and tour guide Julie Reece. I may not show it because I don' t like to cry in front of others, but I am extremely appreciative of the work she does for all of our heros to get those stories and acknowledgements that they deserve...each and every one of them. These experiences we have been lucky enough to have been a part of as a Connecting Spirits group, one can not imagine doing before coming here. The people we have met who are so knowledgeable, the friendships we have made, the kids all working as one...I am very proud of them them teaching each other the differences BUT at the same time respecting, acknowledging, appreciating and learning to live together. I can't pick one special moment as they were all special and something I never thought i would do in my life. I will NEVER this trip of a lifetime and the strength it has given me to help others understand and educate about the importance of our heros the ANZACS.
Brodie Holland (age 10)
I was very proud to come on this trip because not many kids my age get to go to the other side of the world. The best bit of the trip was going to Sutton Veny and meeting all the kids my age.I also liked the Imperial War museum as it was so big. Finally I liked the Westminster Abbey as i was in the same room as Kevin Rudd and the Queen!
The Commonwealth soldiers fought together side by side , brothers in arms regardless of race, belief or social standing. Now thay lay together onor near the battlefields where they passed. We commemorated a small number of these men and I felt a sense of guilt everytime we drove past as cemetery and didn't stop. They all gave equally and died equally and as equals. Every Australian should make this soujourn at least once in their lives and see for themselves the hundreds of cemeteries big and small, grand and simple but all conveying the same message of selfless sacrifice. I think the most personal moment for me was the day we arrived at Ypres and i went to the Menin Gate to find my father's cousin Lionel Baldock.To see his name memorialised here amongst all his fallen mates was very emotional. I'm hoping the information I have gathered will build family bridges with my half siblings. Overall I found the experience to be a deeply moving one as I have seen and done things I will probably never do or see again.Attending the re-internment of six British soldiers was so special and deserving of a full military funeral so many years after they died. I have never been to a church service with the Queen and I sat so close to her! Meeting Alexander Downer in Australia House, and attending the Dawn Service at Hyde Park after being on the battlefields, were all memorable experiences and times for reflection. I enjoyed travelling with such a diverse group of people and it is obvious from the commemorations conducted that each person had their own story to tell and the effect the whole experience had on them. I was aware indigenous people served but I was not aware that they were denied benefits that their mates or their families received - very unjust and poor form!
To sum up this whole trip - firstly I don't want it to end! I had the best time on tour and in a short time it will end and all of our lives will go back to being the same as they were before. We have learnt so much of what all this meant. I have not only connected with the soldiers but all the people on this trip. We are not just taking back the memories of the soldiers but also the friendships we made. I feel like I now have an extended family! I am also proud of myself and all the group for our efforts. When we were on the battlefields I had the best time being taught by Rodders, Jackie,Julie, Mal and even Richard...I will miss that.
This has been an amazing adventure I have been on for the last three weeks. Connecting Spirits is truly the meaning of this project. There were lots of connections for me along the way that happened but the most moving was to be sitting in the little church at Sutton Veny looking around at everything and there on the wall in front of me was a framed Honour Roll hanging on the wall. As I looked through the names of the soldiers that were buried in the church yard, I saw A A Forsyth is is a relative of mine! I was not aware he was there. He is on my list to research when I get home. I placed a posie at his headstone. I have always felt as connection to our diggers and to Anzac Day without never really knowing why I felt like that. But after seeing where the soldiers were fighting, living and dying, also learning everything about them I now know there is so much more to learn. We saw a re-internment of six soldiers killed in WW1 and through this I now understand why I have had so much empathy towards these men and women. I feel privilegedand honoured to have been able to commemorate these truly amazing fellow Australians. I thank them for the sacrifice they made for us.
A memorial and headstones in a field
On a sunny spring day
A few clouds around
The sun's rays through the clouds
Make a surreal embrace of the stories
As if to tell those passing by...
'They are at peace'.
An unknown soldier
lying in his grave
People surround him
'Thank you for being brave'
They wonder who he was
And what he had done
But the one thing we do know
Is he will never see another sun.
An adventure is what you may
with travel, good pay and laughs
But instead you were cold and tired
In the middle of a bloodbath
Rows and rows in cemeteries
Marked out by stones of white
Those men sent by their commnaders
'Lads you go and win the fight!'
Men in brass tell their troops
'We'll win with heart and might'
They're sending off soldiers to die
Why dont they see the light?
Though we know not your name or family
Or where you did call home
Everyone knows of your brave spirity
So please know that you
Are not alone.