Today was our ‘day off’ from our official duties, so we took it as a chance to discover the battlefields as we headed from Lille to Amiens.
We had a special battlefield tour guide, Victor Piuk, providing us so much insight into the region’s history- and it was so interesting.
First stop was the Canadian National Vimy Memorial. This site is dedicated to the Canadians who fought in WW1. During 1914 – 1918, 60,000 Canadians were killed, and over 11,000 were killed in France, with no remains found, or were not identified (further reading here).
This site was an absolutely beautiful tribute to the fallen sons of Canada.
As part of the tour of this memorial, we learnt about the trenches and tunnels on the front line.
It was so fascinating to learn of all the stories of trench and tunnel warfare. Sometimes when digging your own tunnels, you would dig into the enemy’s tunnel and hand-to-hand combat would break out.
The landscape around the memorial will be forever changed by the trenches, tunnels and bombing that occurred.
Next stop was Albert, for lunch. Our choristers took this as an opportunity to sing in the local church.
Such a beautiful moment!
Our next stop was Lochnagar Crater – a massive hole in the ground, and what is the remains from when the allies bombed the Germans in the area to mount their offensive.
Robyn, one of our APs, explained the history:
‘Close to the towns of Albert and Pozieres lies the Lochnagar Crater. It is an enormous hole in the ground – 91m wide and 21m deep.
“On July 1, 1916, over 27,000 tonnes of explosives were exploded beneath enemy lines. The battle of the Somme had begun and the next five weeks were a living hell, resulting in the loss of a million lives between the allies and the Germans.
“The crater is privately owned and managed by a group of passionate volunteers who fund-raise and look after the area. Our tour guide was one of them.”
We then visited Caterpillar Valley Memorial, with 125 New Zealand graves, and a memorial for the 1,205 troops of the New Zealand Division, who died in the Battles of the Somme, and whose bodies were never found (more here).
We wanted to stop here so chorister, Belinda and her mum could visit one of their relations and place a poppy at his name on the wall. It was such a lovely, peaceful place , and so hard to imagine the devastation here around 100 years ago.
Next, we headed to the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux.
This memorial is where our Anzac choirs performed in 2015 and 2016 at the Anzac Day Dawn Services.
There was such a different feeling being there without the site being prepared for Anzac Day commemorations. Again, such a very peaceful place and a fitting tribute to our fallen Aussies on the Western Front.
The memorial is set on top of a hill with stunning vast fields from each vantage point.
Belinda notes her experience of visiting the two memorials here:
‘Today on our battlefields tour, I was fortunate to be able to remember and pay my respects to three different men who lost their lives on the Somme.
“First was a distant relative of mine from New Zealand, Private Leonard Jack Watson at the Caterpillar Valley Memorial. Leonard’s brother also died during the Battle of the Somme, along with two cousins.
“At the Australian War Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux, I visited the headstone for my Adopt a Digger from the 2015 Anzac day tour, Sergeant Walter William Dumbrell. I then also visited a name on the wall of Australian soldier lost in action, Private Frank Edmund Clark. He is the father of a close family friend who is a 99 year-old WW2 veteran.
“Today was an amazing experience, seeing different battlefields and being able to acknowledge the fallen. What made it even more special was, Laurence’s bag pipe playing at the memorials.”
We learnt so much today about the history of the Western Front. It was truly amazing!
As we explored, the question came to mind of – why did Australia get involved in a war thousands of miles away and really, it’s simple.
Back then England was our ‘mother country’ and when she was threatened and called for help, Australia responded.
This is part of a famous election speech speech by Opposition Leader Andrew Fisher (ALP), given on 31 July 1914, when only days later war was declared.
‘Should the worst happen, after everything has been done that honour will permit, Australians will stand beside the mother country to help and defend her to our last man and our last shilling…”
Australia, as such a young nation, answered the call, and the decision, and sacrifice certainly played a massive part in shaping our country.
The choir is now in Amiens, and will fit in some touring of this quiet and picturesque town.
Tomorrow (Thursday), we will start preparing for the Pozieres Service, with a technical rehearsal. In the evening we will have a community concert in Villers-Bretonneux’s covered market.
We can’t wait to meet the VB community, knowing they have welcomed us so warmly on the previous two tours.
(Follow our Western Front Centenary Tours via our Facebook group).