Day 9 (Friday) was such a wonderful day for our choristers, and we are all looking forward to tomorrow, where we will perform at the commemoration service for the Battle of Pozieres.
Those at home can can watch the service on ABC 24 at midnight (12am, Sunday 24 July) with the programme, Australia Remembers: Pozieres Centenary Commemorations.
Today began with a rehearsal at Pozieres, and the sky was so blue and picturesque!
Between rehearsals, we took some time to explore the site’s surrounds, and adjacent is the Gibraltar Blockhouse. This is the remains of a German bunker, the Australian 1st Division took when it first attacked to take control of Pozieres village, from 23 July 1916 (more here).
You can still see the trenches and a round plaque points out the direction of regions or monuments such as Dernancourt, Albert, Pozieres Windmill, Bullecourt, Fromelles, Mouquet Farm, Beaumont-Hamel and others. It is such a good way of knowing the proximity to where some of the key moments of WW1 took place on the Western Front.
After rehearsal, we returned to Amiens for a brief rest (some decided to fit in some last minute cosmetic purchases – as you do in France!) before heading for Allonville, a beautiful village about 10 minutes drive north-east of Amiens.
Here the choir participated in the first formal commemoration service for the Australian WW1 soldiers buried in the Allonville Communal Cemetery.
Our friend, Eric Brisse, was the master of ceremony and a local historian provided a brief history on how important the Australians were to the village.
We discovered Allonville was a place of fun and rest for the Australians during WW1, where they provided entertainment at the local theatre, and had horse races.
Sadly, on 31 May 1918 (just months before the war ended) the barn where the Aussies were sleeping was shelled by the Germans.
At the service, chorister, Emma Nicol delivered a beautiful speech in French, and we’ve included the English translation here:
“I have two brothers. They are young in body and spirit. They are filled with hopes and dreams and ambitions of an exciting future.
“They have their whole adult life ahead of them. They are 25 and 23 years old – both older than many of those who fought and died here.
“Words cannot describe my sisterly love for them – the fun of their companionship, the care they take of me and my pride in their achievements big and small. Nothing can compare with knowing they are there.
“My brothers are loyal, tough and determined young men. I know my brothers stand up for what they believe in but I cannot imagine them having to do so with machine guns 100 meters away aimed in their direction.
“I know how hard and anxiously they prepare to fight the everyday battles of modern daily life, yet I cannot imagine them preparing to fight knowing that death could come at any moment. I know they have courage and determination but I cannot imagine them having to keep up that spirit whilst their comrades die around them.
“No one should have to endure these things. However in July, 1916, there were many many sisters of my age, of men now at rest here at Allonville Communal Cemetery, anxiously awaiting news of their family.
“I’m sure they were just like me, filled with unconditional love for their brothers and pride in their honour, loyalty and determination, with very good reason. I’m sure they could not imagine the horrors being endured by the people they held most dear – and yet this is the reality they were faced with.
“Today we are here to pay tribute not just to those who suffered the unimaginable, who endured the impossible, who experienced agonising/unconquerable fear but also to pay tribute to their sisters, mothers, fathers, and friends who knew both pride, and pain at their sacrifice.
“I thank you for being here today to honour these men who never returned to their families. Through services such as this, commemorating the sacrifices of war, and through sharing the stories such as those we have heard today, we must strive to ensure that the young men who fought and fell in 1916 did not suffer in vain. Instead we must ensure that brothers and sisters of all future generations may live in peace and prosperity, knowing they will always be there for each other.”
The choir paid a fitting tribute with Laurence playing the bagpipes and Tim Francis (Andy and Margie’s older brother and former Birralee chorister) trumpeted The Last Post.
After the service, Birralee presented their last concert for the tour to the people of Allonville. What an audience! It was a packed house and the choir was rewarded with two standing ovations!
The community was so warm and welcoming and hosted a lovely post concert dinner on long trestle tables, with lots of lovely food and wine from the region – absolutely divine!
The past week has been incredible for our choristers and APs, with many moments of discovery to really enhance the reason why we are over here and the importance of honouring the sacrifices of WW1.
An example includes how one of our APs, Tony, with his daughter, Shelby, visited the grave of Reuben John Rule (Shelby’s great-great-uncle).
Reuben, of the 5th Battalion AIF, 4th Reinforcement, was killed in the battle of Pozieres on 25 July 1916, age 19. He had survived the Gallipoli campaign TWICE (after being wounded, and returned to active duty) and was then mobilised with the rest of the 1st Division, to the Western Front in mid 1916. He survived only two days in this battle and is laid to rest at the Pozieres British Cemetery Ovillers-La Boisselle.
Tony and Shelby decided it would be fitting to drape the Australian flag over the headstone, while honouring Reuben with some poppies – A beautiful tribute.
It is stories like these that have made the week special, as we’ve forged such personal connections to the soldiers who fought in WW1.
Our choristers have done such a wonderful job in fulfilling their duty to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, and have bonded so well as an ensemble.
Completing the team we have been fortunate to have our talented APs join us – Matthew Farrell on cello, Heather Francis on flute, Peter Francis on percussion and Tony Forbes being our photo, video and sound guru.
Our other APs have also been awesome, and a wonderful and enthusiastic support crew – Fiona Marshall, Kym Boon, Lyn Chappell and Robyn Wood.
And it’s not over yet! We have our performance at the service tomorrow. The final ‘official day’ of the trip and we can’t wait.
(Keep up to date with our centenary tours via our Facebook group)