Day 7: Singing for the soldiers of Hamel

The choristers’ last day on Wednesday began with an early start as the group were on the road to The Australian Corps Memorial, Le Hamel, France, for the Centenary of the Battle of Hamel commemorative service.

After a week of discovering this region’s relevance to WW1 and learning of the battles, particularly, the Battle of Hamel on 4 July 1918, our choristers were ready to pay tribute to this time in our history through song.

“With the monument of the Sir John Monash centre at the Australian National Memorial in the distance, and the trenches of Le Hamel before us, we sang wholeheartedly in the pre-service alongside the Australian Army Band directed by Lieutenant Colonel Craig Johnson. It has been such a pleasure to sing with them and their soloist Tanya Christensen,” chorister Bridget said.

 

Voices of Birralee Hamel Tour

The choir pictured with the Australian Army Band (pic by Rhonda).

The service began with a video of details of fallen Australian soldiers, some as young as 20-years-old. There were 93 flags from Australia, France, USA, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Canada placed in the trenches, honouring the allied nations involved in the 93-minute Battle of Hamel.

Speeches noted how the battle was meticulously planned by General John Monash to be 90 minutes, and it took just three minutes longer. It was a battle of ‘firsts’, with the Australian Corps fighting alongside the American forces for the first time in history, and was an ‘all arms’ battle with the use of  planes, tanks, bullets, with wireless sets and carrier pigeons for communication.

While it was labelled a ‘text book’ victory, the loss was still costly with Australia alone enduring 1,062 casualties, with 800 soldiers killed.

 

Further reading here.

 

“As the names of the fallen were read out, the flags blew in the wind, as if other soldiers were saluting them. Presenters reflected on the bravery of our soldiers, and were reminded that life is full of choices. We can choose to forget about our soldiers, with their efforts fading into the dust of history. Or we can choose to remember with pride, respect and reverence. We can choose to keep today’s soldiers in our thoughts and hearts as they protect us through dangerous and trying times,” Bridget said. 

Voices of Birralee Hamel Tour

Linda Apelt, Agent General Trade and Investment Queensland Australia, with conductor Julie Christiansen at the Centenary of the Battle of Hamel (pic by Michael)

Distinguished guests and other members of the audience were moved by Voices of Birralee’s performance, with an email coming from a lady from Australia even before they had finished singing, full of admiration for the choir’s rendition of Amazing Grace.

Voices of Birralee Hamel Tour

The choir with the Hon Darren Chester MP.

Voices of Birralee Hamel Tour

The choir with His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Retd) Governor-General of the Commonwealth Of Australia with Lady Lynn Cosgrove.

Voices of Birralee Hamel Tour

The choir with the wreath laid on behalf of Voices of Birralee (pic by Michael)

The choir knew that many of their families were watching the ABC live footage at home with messages of encouragement and pride being sent.

“The importance of our choir’s performance and attendance at this event cannot be understated. We are the voice of a new generation, one who has never known war like our ancestors. We are the voice for those who were permanently silenced. A voice for the ‘quiet ghosts’ on the Western Front’,” Bridget said. 

 

The past week has been an incredible tour for our choristers, conductors and accompanists. Last night they celebrated their time together with a group dinner in Amiens.

Voices of Birralee Founder and Artistic Director Julie Christiansen OAM, who conducted the choir, noted her pride: 

“Congratulations to every singer, for the integral part which you played in the ensemble. I couldn’t have asked for a more talented, positive, resilient and cooperative team of young people and it has been a privilege to work with you all. Thank you also to LtCol Craig Johnson from the Australian Army Band and the musicians, including soloist Tanya Christensen. Special thanks to Brendan Murtagh, Jenni Flemming and Gwyn Roberts. And finally a huge shout out to Michael Murtagh for multitasking as MC, French -English translator, logistics assistant, photographer and super grandad!” 

Chorister Bridget added: “This has been such a fantastic tour. A highlight has been getting to know the Birralee community- singers, Julie, and families of the singers sharing their talents with us. We are more a community than just a choir and it’s amazing that everyone has something special to contribute. Thank you all for a once-in-a-lifetime experience!” 

Chorister Alexander Brown noted: “Highlights of the trip include performing beneath the Arc d’Triomphe – certainly a once-in-a-lifetime experience – as well as the warm reception we received wherever we travelled. The people of Bailleul and Halloy-Les-Pernois were incredibly generous with their food, drink and applause, and it is visiting small communities such as those that makes trips like these so rewarding. Huge thanks to Jenni and Gwyn – world class musicians providing world class accompaniment – and Michael for being on multiple occasions our only form of communication with the local communities. Appreciation to Ryan and Oli for being top shelf roomates. And of course Julie, who was not only conductor, artistic director, tour director and logistics manager, but also a friend to the whole group. And finally, a big shout out to Rochelle, Amirah and Maree for their tireless admin work – this tour was as much yours as it was ours.”

Voices of Birralee Hamel Tour

Julie with the men of the choir (pic by Maddie)

***

There’s a number of people who make these centenary tours possible. Special thank you to:

  • The Department of Veterans’ Affairs for providing Voices of Birralee this opportunity.
  • Eric Brisse for being our liaison for our touring of the Somme region.
  • The Bailleul community for welcoming our group so warmly; Mayor Marc Deneuche, Deputy Mayor Sebastien Malesys and Deputy Mayor Catherine Deplancke, with Sophie and Olivia.
  • The Halloy-Lès-Pernois community and Mayor of Pernois, Eric Olivier and Mayor of Halloy-Lès-Pernois, Philippe Carpentier.
  • Voices of Birralee; Founder & Artistic Director Julie Christiansen OAM, Associate Director Paul Holley OAM, Operations & Events Manager Rochelle Manderson and Administrator Amirah Farrell.
  • Brisbane City Council.
  • The Ashgrove – The Gap Lions Club.
  • Our wonderful Birralee community including Linda Stemp for her bespoke poppies our choristers wear with pride and Tony Forbes for the offical photography and filming of our tourers in Australia

Finally, thank you to all the friends and family back home for supporting and following our choristers’ journey.

We look forward to our next tour – the Centenary of the First World War Armistice as we send 30 choristers to France for 11 November at the Australian National Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux.

For now, we wish our July tourers a safe and happy rest of their trip.

#vobhamel100 #wewillrememberthem #lestweforget

Day 6 – Rehearsals and relaxing before the big day

As you might have seen by now, our choir performed beautifully at the Centenary of the Battle of Hamel, using their voices to honour those who served in the battle which was a turning point of the war.

But before we provide Wednesday’s recap, here’s what happened on Day 6 (Tuesday).

Voices of Birralee Hamel Tour

Brisbane young musician Dave Leaders rehearses the pipes for the Hamel Centenary Service (pic by Julie)

First up in the morning our group left Amiens for the Australian Corps Memorial, Le Hamel for an ‘in real time’ rehearsal, to get ready for Wednesday. As it has been with all of the commemorative events Voices of Birralee has been involved with, planning is down to the minute, which is needed to ensure a successful broadcast on the day.

With everyone confident with how rehearsal went, the group had time for some more exploring of historical sites, including the Beaumont Hamel Newfoundland Memorial.

This memorial further highlights how many people throughout the world ‘answered the call’ to fight voluntarily during WW1 and that countries felt the need to serve, no matter their size. Newfoundland was a small British dominion, and offered a small regiment throughout the war. Of all the battles it faced, the worst was the first day of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916 when the regiment was almost wiped out. It was a devastating day for many. 20,000 British troops were killed, 37,000 wounded and of the Newfoundland Regiment, when the roll was called only 68 answered as 324 troops were killed or missing and 386 were wounded (more here).

After visiting the site, our group headed back to Amiens. Here they enjoyed a boat ride through the canal, arches and garden plots of The ‘Hortillonnages‘, a maze of floating gardens.

It was the perfect opportunity for a sing:

 

The group then enjoyed an early dinner.

Voices of Birralee Hamel Tour

Enjoying a meal before the final day (pic by Brendan)

In the next blog post, we’ll recap Wednesday, noting what it was like for our tourers to be a part of the Centenary of the Battle of Hamel.

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#vobhamel100 #wewillrememberthem #lestweforget

Updated ways to tune into the Battle of Hamel

Hi everyone, the ways to tune into the Centenary of the Battle of Hamel service have been updated, with a new listing from the ABC noting it will be broadcast live. Please note the below:

WEDNESDAY 4 JULY 2018 

6pm. The ABC will now be broadcasting the Centenary of the Battle of Hamel live. (It will be repeated at 10am Thursday)
6pm. Live via the Anzac Centenary Facebook page
6pm. Via the Australian Government Department of Veterans’ Affairs​’s Youtube channel here.
(Please note the above times are listed in AEST) 

Day 5: On site rehearsals begin at Le Hamel

Today the choristers began their day with a visit to the Sir John Monash Centre, which sits behind the Australian National Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux.

The site presented a phenomenal recount of the stories, horror and fate of Australian soldiers who fought in WWI and the many battles fought on the Western Front.

There were two quotes that stood out to the choristers the most:

“When the Australians came to France, the French people expected a great deal of you… We knew that you would fight a real fight, but we did not know that from the very beginning you would astonish the whole continent with your valour.” Spoken by French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau to the Australian troops after the war was won. 

Chorister Sally Christiansen said the group was inspired to hear about Monash’s theory on warfare which ultimately led Australian troops to reclaim the French villages and never loose ground. Resonating well with the choristers, Monash equated the organisation of troops to music.

Monash said: “A perfected modern battle plan is like nothing so much as a score for an orchestral composition, where the various arms and units are the instruments, and the tasks they perform are their respective musical phrases.”

The group’s AP and translator, Michael Murtagh said the centre was an overwhelming experience.

“Everyone follows a trail with an app and earphones in so it becomes a very private affair with only occasional glances exchanged with fellow visitors. It culminates in a multi-media screen show complete with a smoke machine, strobe lighting, machine gun fire and bombs exploding all around!” he said. 

 

While at the Australian National Memorial, the group observed the wall which hosts the names of 11,000 troops recorded as missing.

Choristers Maddie and Mark, who toured in Voices of Birralee’s first choir as part of the DVA commitment in 2015, relished the chance to find their ancestors’ names on the wall, once again.

“Myself and fellow chorister and friend, Mark had great uncles that fought with the 26th battalion on the Western Front,” Maddie said.

“We placed a bunch of wildflowers in the shadow of the remembrance wall that holds their names and wondered what they would think of our presence and if they were friends.” 

The group then headed to Le Hamel, Australian Corps Memorial for the rehearsal on-site for Wednesday’s performance.

The weather continued to be hot, but the choristers ran their music smoothly with the Australian Army Band.

Voices of Birralee Hamel Tour

Julie and the choir in the shade at the memorial (pic by Sally)

After, the group ventured back to Amiens for the next element of the day, a performance.

“A highlight of the day was our late afternoon performance at the acclaimed original ‘Notre Dame Cathedral’ in Amiens. It was a once in a life time experience and a beautiful concert,” Sally said.

Voices of Birralee Hamel Tour

The choir at Amiens Cathedral (pic by Rhonda)

Michael added, “The vastness was in stark contrast to other intimate venues and offered a very different acoustic which could have challenged our chorale. It was a beautiful concert and we must have done something right as the recteur/curé invited us behind the locked gates into the choir stalls dating from 1501 – 1508. It contained 3,000 intricate carvings in the solid wood retelling biblical stories in great detail.”

A special moment was the Australian Army Band soloist Tanya joining the choir to sing Amazing Grace.

Some of the crew came back to the cathedral later in the evening for the light show which was spectacular – so bright and colourful.

Today (on Tuesday) our choristers will participate in another rehearsal at Le Hamel, before visiting more historical sites including Beaumont Hamel Newfoundland Memorial and Thiepval Memorial.

More soon!

EDIT ON WAYS TO TUNE INTO THE CENTENARY OF THE BATTLE OF HAMEL SERVICE ON WEDNESDAY 4 JULY 2018: 

6pm. The ABC will now be broadcasting the Centenary of the Battle of Hamel live. (It will be repeated at 10am Thursday)
6pm. Live via the Anzac Centenary Facebook page
6pm. Via the Australian Government Department of Veterans’ Affairs​’s Youtube channel here.
(Times listed above are AEST) 

If you’d like to receive blog posts to your inbox, simply hover your cursor over the bottom right hand corner of the blog. Click ‘follow’ and then enter your email address.

You are also invited to join the Friends of Birralee’s Anzac Centenary Tours page on Facebook.

#vobhamel100 #wewillrememberthem #lestweforget

 

Day 4: The countdown begins

Before we get into what our choristers got up to on Day 4 – we’d like to share some info for those keen to tune into the Centenary of the Battle of Hamel service this Wednesday. 

EDIT ON WAYS TO TUNE INTO THE CENTENARY OF THE BATTLE OF HAMEL SERVICE ON WEDNESDAY 4 JULY 2018: 

6pm. The ABC will now be broadcasting the Centenary of the Battle of Hamel live. (It will be repeated at 10am Thursday)
6pm. Live via the Anzac Centenary Facebook page
6pm. Via the Australian Government Department of Veterans’ Affairs​’s Youtube channel here.
(Times listed above are AEST) 

Now … to Day 4.

On Sunday our choristers woke up in Bailleul and said goodbye to the locals.

Voices of Birralee Hamel Tour

The choir with Sebastien and Sophie who looked after them in Bailleul (pic by Mark)

Voices of Birralee Hamel Tour

Jacquille with a new friend (pic by Maddie)

Upon departure, chorister Oli said there was one local the group were tempted to take with them.

“We met a puppy called ‘Oli’ which people were all too happy to replace me with!” he said.

The group then drove to Halloy-lès-Pernois for a service at the British Cemetery where the choir learnt about how there are 403 Commonwealth burials, with 17 Germans laid to rest at the site.

After the service, the group walked to the town where there was a big festival showcasing vintage cars, bikes and tractors.

The group was then provided a sumptuous lunch by the community, with ciders, beers and wine. Our choristers only had a drink or two, as there was still lots of work on for the day. 

Next, it was rehearsal time with the Australian Army Band at MegaCite as the countdown begins to Wednesday’s Centenary of the Battle of Hamel service.

And before long it was back on the bus to return to Halloy-lès-Pernois for a ceremony and concert in the beautiful town church, where the acoustics were marvellous.

With the concert over, marking the end to a massive day, the group journeyed to Amiens where they’ll stay for the next few nights.

Some grabbed local food and sat by the river to watch the sun set at 11pm.

Today (Monday) the group is visiting the Sir John Monash Centre at the Australian National Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux, which an incredibly apt stop, as it was Sir Monash who led the Australians and the allies to victory at Hamel almost 100 years ago.

They’ll rehearse at Le Hamel, Australian Corps Memorial and perform to the locals at Amiens Cathedral in the early evening.

We look forward to sharing what they discover.

If you’d like to receive blog posts to your inbox, simply hover your cursor over the bottom right hand corner of the blog. Click ‘follow’ and then enter your email address.

You are also invited to join the Friends of Birralee’s Anzac Centenary Tours page on Facebook.

#vobhamel100 #wewillrememberthem #lestweforget

Day 3: Arriving to Bailleul

On Day 3 our choristers hit the road from Paris. It was a day of exploration and discovery, before meeting the beautiful people of Bailleul.

The first destination was the Armistice Museum in Compiègne, where the Armistice which ended World War One was signed on 11 November, 1918, in a railway car paused on its tracks in the nearby forest.

Voices of Birralee Hamel Tour

At the Armistice Museum, Compiègne (pic by Julie) 

The railway car was again used for another Armistice signing in 1940, before it was taken by Hitler and displayed in the Lustgarten in Berlin as a symbol of revenge and victory.

Chorister Heather Hunt described the significance of the site:

“Although the second armistice failed to bring peace, it was still a critical moment in the war so it was fascinating to be in this now serene countryside and imagine the days of negotiation which occurred in a small railway car.

“Although the original car was destroyed in an accidental fire, they displayed an almost identical railway car from the same era which had been revamped to replicate the original 1918 carriage.” 

The next stop, was the Canadian National Vimy Memorial nearby. This site is of significance particularly due to 12 April 1917 when the Canadian forces strategically captured higher ground after days of intense battle and years of preparation by combined allied forces.

“It seems as though Vimy Ridge holds a similar significance to Canadians as Gallipoli does for Australians, as a milestone for a fledgling nation. The thousands of Canadians who died are memorialised at a hauntingly beautiful limestone creation by sculptor Walter Allward which rises above the already elevated Vimy Ridge,” Heather said.

“The grief from the sacrifice made here is displayed in shrouded mourning figures, while other dying figures are embedded in the stone atop the two towers, approaching the sky. The nearby Vimy Ridge Visitor’s Centre provided more information about the battle as well as the wider significance. This included a moving art exhibition combining pressed flowers sent home by a soldier, glass artworks, matched scents and personal stories of soldiers, doctors, and women who contributed to the war effort by connecting soldiers to their families.”

The choristers then explored the tunnels and trenches of Vimy Ridge, where soldiers spent endless hours, sometimes in rat-infested mud. It was interesting to realise that no-man’s land (the distance between the two opposing front lines, in this case, between Canadian and German trenches) was only 25 metres apart, due to a destroyed mine which formed craters.

With touring done for the day, the choir arrived to Bailleul, with the sombre day in sharp  contrast to the warm welcome received from the community.

Deputy Mayor Sébastien Malesys and his wife, Sophie, opened a colourful boarding house to the choir before they all headed to the Hôtel de Ville for an official reception.

“This gorgeous building dripping in flowers was a lovely place to meet more of the people who made our stay here possible. We couldn’t stay long however, as our concert was in the evening at a beautiful chapel, Église Saint Vaast located near the hospital, a short way out of town,” Heather noted.

 

The choir was excited to sing almost all of their repertoire at the concert, to a fantastically enthusiastic audience.

“It was an absolute joy to sing for them. My favourite piece in this particular concert was La Vie en Rose as everyone seemed overjoyed to hear us sing it despite our imperfect French and many even sung along,” Heather said.

“It was a beautiful moment and I’m very grateful to everyone who listened to us, thanked us afterwards and were so generous with their kind words and smiles. I can’t imagine having a better audience at the start of a tour when we were admittedly quite nervous.”

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After two encores, the group moved to Ferme Brasserie Beck for dinner, a charming farm restaurant which brews the phenomenal Hommelpap artisanal beer.

The generosity and warmth of the Bailleul community continued as the choristers enjoyed a meal with local leaders.

It was such a wonderful experience for our choristers and a special thank you to the Bailleul community for welcoming them so well – especially to Sébastien, Sophie and Olivia.

Today (Sunday), our choristers will meet and perform for the community of Halloy-lès-Pernois, while having their first overseas rehearsal with the Australian Army Band in preparation for Wednesday’s service for the Centenary of the Battle of Hamel.

More soon! 

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You are also invited to join the Friends of Birralee’s Anzac Centenary Tours page on Facebook.

#vobhamel100 #wewillrememberthem #lestweforget

Day two: Sightseeing in Paris

Our choristers enjoyed a leisurely Day Two (Friday), playing tourists and exploring Paris in the 30 degree heat!

Some of the choristers ventured to the gardens, Jardins du Luxembourg, the modern art galleries of Centre Georges Pompidou, and the second largest church in Paris, Church of Saint-Sulpice.

Others journeyed to the palace of Versailles, which was the palace of the kings, until the French Revolution in 1789.

Voices of Birralee Hamel Tour

The grounds at the Palace of Versailles (pic by Maddie)

The site, just under an hour from Paris, comprises no less than 2,300 rooms spread over 63,154 m2.

It’s a beautiful property, with chorister Bree reporting it seemed larger than expected, with 21,000 steps accumulated for the day.

The rest of the day included a lovely group dinner, before visiting a wine bar and sampling some excellent French wine.

Today (Saturday), the group is travelling from Paris to Bailleul for its first community concert. Our Anzac Day Commemoration Choir in April this year had a wonderful experience meeting the community of Bailleul, so our current tourers are looking forward to the visit.

The choir will be performing beautiful pieces like this one, recorded at their Dedication Service and Concert earlier this month (special thanks to Tony Forbes).

We can’t wait to share more of the choir’s adventures soon as they get closer to what is going to be an incredible experience of performing at the Centenary of the Battle of Hamel.

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#vobhamel100 #wewillrememberthem #lestweforget