Sunday marked the finale of the tour, with the choir waking early to be one of the first groups on the Australian National Memorial site. Every rehearsal in the past week and in the months prior, led to this special event of commemoration; the Centenary of the First World War Armistice.
The air was fresh with the sun having only come up an hour or so ago, and with just a few grey clouds, we were all optimistic for a service without rain.
As we began to warm up our voices, we realised the only chance for a group photo would be before the general public arrived, so we all quickly dashed to the stairs in front of the memorial.
After a quick warm up in the ‘green room’ tent it was time to join the Royal Australian Air Force Band for the pre-service entertainment performed between stories of remembrance, including about Australian soldiers and those from other countries.
Our APs watched on with pride and were delighted the Department of Veterans’ Affairs had reserved the first few rows so they could continue lending their support to our choristers from close by.
The weather remained reasonable until the actual service began and the rain started coming down. Our choristers could hear the rattle of plastic ponchos being found by the audience to keep warm and dry. Us choristers, however, just had to bear it and as the MLK song from our repertoire suggested we just had to ‘let it rain’.
It got increasingly cold and became a little hard to handle when the rain got quite heavy, but our choristers were professional, continuing to remind themselves of the importance of what they were doing and the sacrifices made on that very land 100 years before them.
The service was very meaningful, beginning with a roll of honour, followed by speeches from dignitaries and our choir performing with the band, including the hymn Be Still My Soul and both the Australian and French national anthems. You can view it below.
During the public wreath laying, some of our APs laid a wreath for their relatives who served making their involvement in this tour even more meaningful.
Paul from DVA was adamant Voices of Birralee should be last to lay a wreath and enjoy the special moment and choristers Simon and Elise Watt, who are married, were given the honour. It was a beautiful moment – epitomising the pride we all felt in being able to play a special part in Australia’s WW1 centenary commemorations on the Western Front. It was also very special for Simon and Elise personally, as they have ancestors who served during WW1, plus both of their parents were watching on.
When the service came to an end and the live broadcast concluded, we performed one more song, Ave Maria with a solo by our youngest choir member Jia, and the audience clapped, with many coming to the front to watch. Thinking of our wellbeing, our conductor Julie made the call for us to leave the stage and head for warmth.
All in all it was a great morning of reflection and Julie and Jen and our APs were proud of our work.
After having a shower and getting into warm clothes, our group felt recharged and headed to The Underground City of Naours, about 20 minutes from Amiens. These caves were used from the middle ages, mainly during wars. Throughout WW1 some of the Anzacs visited the caves and drew pictures on some of the walls. We weren’t able to see these parts with the system so extensive.
Part of the system we visited is set under a beautiful site which was showing Autumn at its best which us Queenslanders are just not used to. We had to play with the leaves.
In the evening a group of 60, comprising choristers, APs and shadowing parents and friends, joined together in Amiens, which (as per what happens on any Birralee trip) turned into a singing fest and we even received requests from Aussies passing by. Laurence who seems to always have his bagpipes on hand, played a number of songs for us which encouraged singing from our group and others who were eating in the restaurant. In the below, Laurence’s brother Will joins in to help him with Waltzing Matilda.
Leaving the restaurant, we didn’t get far, as Emma, Will and Laurence Nicol started an impromptu Ceili. It was super fun and very surreal with the spires of Notre Dame Cathedral hovering nearby.
A dad with his baby asked us to sing a song for them as the night was drawing to a close, which was a very adorable moment.
The evening was the perfect end to the tour which has been a great week of singing, bonding as a group, and of course remembering the Anzacs and others who served throughout the world during the First World War.
This opportunity wouldn’t be possible without a number of people.
First of all, thank you to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, particularly Paul Richardson CSC OAM and Shane Haiduk.
Thank you to Royal Australian Air Force Band Flight Lieutenant Daniel Phillips and each band member. It’s been a pleasure to work with you!
From the French communities, thank you to Eric Brisse for his ongoing assistance in connecting us with beautiful communities such as Allonville and Fouilloy.
Special thank you to Allonville Mayor Joel Delrue and Deputy Mayor Didier Lemaire, and Martial Louis, Bailleul Mayor Marc Deneuche, Deputy Mayor Sebastien Malesys and Deputy Mayor Catherine Deplancke, Fouilloy Deputy Mayor Serge Rondot, Villers-Bretonneux Mayor Patrick Simon and Deputy Mayor Benoit Decottegnie and the Sir John Monash Centre and Musée Franco-Australien.
Thank you to Voices of Birralee’s Founder and Artistic Director, who also conducted us, Julie Christiansen OAM, Assistant Conductor Jenny Moon and Accompanist Shane Calderbank and everyone at Birralee for your support.
Thank you to all the APs involved in the trip for being our ‘rent a crowd’ while helping with various roles, including Tony and Craig for taking video and images.
And thank you to everyone at home for your ongoing support of our choristers throughout this journey!
April 2019 will mark our final tour of our Western Front Anzac Centenary Touring Program and we invite you to stay in touch and follow the journey.
You can do this by subscribing to this blog (hover your cursor around the bottom right hand side of the page and click ‘follow’ and then enter your email address), while also joining the Friends of Birralee’s Anzac Centenary Tours page here.
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