Day 7: Rest day, and exploration.

The countdown is almost over – it is Anzac Day tomorrow!

We enjoyed a rest day today (Sunday), where we opted to chill out, or set off and explore more of the region. A number of us took it as an opportunity to discover the Somme.

Our first stop was the 1st Australian Division Memorial in Pozières. This is one of the sites where our July tourers will perform for the 100th year commemoration of the Battles of Pozières. We learnt from the history plaques that during seven weeks from July, 1916, more than 6,700 Australian soldiers lost their lives; which marks the most soldiers lost in one battle field.

Next stop was The Museum of the Somme, in Albert. The museum is set upon very cool tunnels, which were built like many in the region, for the purpose of taking cover from any Spanish or Normand invasion around the 16th century. The museum tunnels now feature artefacts and historic displays, with a focus on WW1.

Over the past week we have been immersed in Australia’s WW1 history in France, however, visiting this museum provided us more of an overall picture on other countries’ involvement, including the allied forces and Germany. We saw what a German trench looked like, while viewing each countries’ choice of weapons and uniforms.

Photography included a picture of what the town of Albert looked like in 1916, a town that was flat and destroyed, compared to what it looks like now.

The museum also featured letters from soldiers, satirical post cards, while drawing attention to identities that became known from WW1 for  various reasons, such as John Mc Crae, a field sergeant with the Canadian Artillery. He wrote the poem, In Flanders Fields, which is part of our repertoire. Mc Crae died in 1918 in Boulogne, Northern France, from pneumonia.

After the museum, we explored the gardens and the town, had a quick bite to eat, before jumping on the bus for the next historic destination.

Exploring the Australian Corps Memorial was next on the list. The site, which overlooks the town of Le Hamel, with vast and stunning views, acknowledges Australia’s efforts in the region. It is said that the Battle of Hamel took just 93 minutes in July 1918 – more info here. The significant work of Lieutenant General John Monash from Melbourne, whom Monash University was named after, is recognised here. One of the plaques includes a quote from Monash, where he describes a battle plan as being similar to orchestral arrangements and musicians.

“A perfect 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 memorial features the Australian, Britain, American, France and Canadian flags. We decided to honour those lost with a song.

The day was rounded up with a stop at The Adelaide Cemetery in Villers-Bretonneux. It was from this cemetery where the remains of ‘The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier’ were transferred to the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

We located this grave, where Governor-General, Peter Cosgrove had already visited this morning to lay a wreath. It was beautiful to also see a cross from Como West Public School, NSW saying; “Thank you for helping me, my family and my country. Lest we forget.” 

One of our choristers, Gerard, had been tasked by the Caboolture/Morayfield RSL to locate a grave of a soldier known to one of their member’s families. 

At the Adelaide Cemetery, Gerard found Lance Corporal William Overend Wilson’s grave to lay a poppy.

Wilson was in the 31st Australian Infantry Battalion. He was the son of John Radcliffe Wilson and Marie Catherine Maud Wilson, of Mount Surprise Station, Frewhurst, and was born in Cairns, Queensland, however, was associated with Esk. He was a Distinguished Conduct Medal and Military Medal recipient and died on 25 May, 1918, aged 25.

Gerard will now be able to return home and share pictures of his findings with the RSL, while noting the location of the grave. It is in a place that is so geographically different to what Lance Corporal Wilson would have known in 1918.

Today was an awesome way to further explore the history and stories of WW1, which amplifies the importance of why we are in France for Anzac Day.

We are all going to have a rest now, to be on the bus for 1am (Monday) to head to The Australian National Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux for the Dawn Service, followed by a service at The Digger Memorial, Bullecourt.

It’s going to be an incredibly emotional, tiring day, which will be so rewarding as we honour the Anzacs in this significant commemorative event.

We can’t wait to let you know how it goes!

Lest we forget.

(Stay up to date with news at Friends of Birralee’s Anzac Centenary Tours).

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