Thursday 25 April – Anzac Day
This Europe tour blog has returned to the hands of the original bloggers – Joshua Clifford and Ally Dunk
To arrive on time to the Australian National Memorial (ANM), Villers-Bretonneux for our Anzac Day commitment, the Voices of Birralee choristers woke up at 1am, meeting in the foyer of our Albert hostel at 1:45am.
Layered in thermals, jumpers, gloves, beanies and our instantly recognisable blue tour jackets, we boarded buses to depart (a special thank you to our drivers Lee and Oliver who have been taking care of us since leaving Paris!).
As we drew closer to the ANM, we saw the surrounding grassy area lit up by bright white flood lights, and the impressive tower illuminated in warm light. After passing through the necessary security checks, we quickly hurried to our tent to escape the cold wind and rain.
Sitting in our tents, enjoying breakfast and each other’s company, we were not fully prepared for how the coming events would impact us.
Both Ally and myself (Josh) have done commemorative tours in the past, but the vast majority of the other choristers have not experienced one of these transformative events.
The pre-service commenced with the Birralee Blokes performing with the Navy Band. They sang with such energy for so early in the morning, and many were touched by their moving performance of “Tell My Father”. They finished with the well-known “In Flanders Fields”.
The Blokes and conductor Paul Holley OAM left to make room for BBV and conductor Jenny Moon, who sang their three pre-service pieces incredibly well. Special mention to Sophie Millar, Laura Verdasco, Annabelle Khoo and Isabel Matthews, who all had solos in this set – they braved the cold and sang with lovely, warm tone!
Voices of Birralee’s SATB Anzac Service Choir assembled and a sense of nervous but excited energy ran through the ensemble as they lined up ready to perform.
The cold was beginning to settle in and the shivering had begun in full force! A touching moment for those watching was the selected tribute to Australian soldiers who died in WWI, ranging from as young as 15 to 44, in places all across Europe, which was then followed by a diary reading from a young man’s final letter to his mother.
As the Official proceedings commenced, the Anzac Day choir stepped up to meet the challenge of the main focus of this entire tour. “Band Of Brothers” had musicality and extreme reverence, and in the service the renditions of the French and Australian Anthems and the hymn “Amazing Grace” were beautifully sung (view the service below).
Music continued into the public wreath laying – a stunning “Danny Boy” and a sparkling “You, Me, And The Wide Open Sky” were highlights.
A huge thank you to our two Birralee conductors Jenny (BBV) and Paul (Birralee Blokes), who have been working tirelessly to this point.
This Anzac Day was a huge success for all those involved! The service concluded and at 8am, after warming up in the tent again, Birralee travelled to the township of Villers-Bretonneux to witness the local Anzac Day commemorative service and wreath-laying, before performing in our own short feature concert in the Voices of Birralee Covered Marketplace.
Of particular interest to many choristers was singing for Senator Christopher Pyne who was also at the Dawn Service. “Eye of the Needle” from the Blokes had him toe-tapping, whilst many Australians in the audience enjoyed hearing some local bird calls as BBV sang “Bellbirds.”
Presenting the Mayor of this wonderful town a plaque as a thank you for so graciously welcoming us since 2015 led us to our final pieces “The Voice” featuring djembe extraordinaire Jess Ruhle and an encore of “Sesere Eeye.”
After coming down from the high of this amazingly well received concert, we walked through Villers-Bretonneux (past many Australian symbols and flags). We had a half-hour opportunity to visit the Victoria School museum, where significant artefacts, replica dioramas and interactive exhibits allowed us all to continue our learning of the events surrounding and immediately following WWI.
Of particular interest were images of pre-war and post-war Villers-Bretonneux, where we saw the devastating effects of the fighting on this small community 101 years ago. At about 10.30am we departed for Amiens to spend a little more time shopping and finding some lunch. Some singers went to find some macarons and other French boulangerie delights, whilst some opted for a cheap and easy fix – McDonalds.
We also explored the Amiens Notre Dame cathedral, which is actually bigger than the Parisian building of the same name. Featuring ornate golden furnishings, enormous statues of saints and Mary, monumental pillars and an imposing organ, we sang an impromptu acapella “Ave Verum” by Mozart, which many visitors stopped to listen to as it echoed up and around the space.
We arrived back in Albert around 4pm and had a few hours to catch up on the sleep we lost this morning. 6pm saw Birralee once again at “Le Corners Pub” for a delicious three-course dinner, consisting of soup, chicken, potato, vegetables and apple tart.
We all got the message on our way back to the hostel to meet in the dining hall for our end of tour farewell party! Speeches from Paul, Mrs C, APs Michael Bain and Jane Sutton and Jenny filled us with both nostalgia for the incredibly journey we had just completed and a sense of pride in what we had achieved.
Josh also read a poem which he and fellow chorister Cameron Bryer had written together, inspired by the events of the Anzac portion of the tour, and all that we had experienced here.
Finally, we all went to bed, incredibly proud of each individual chorister and staff member for finally reaching the end of this immense tour!
Here is Joshua Clifford and Cameron Bryer’s poem:
Asleep they lay beneath the stones,
Most of whom, names left unknown,
Here in silent peace they lie,
Eternal sleep ‘neath summer skies.
As our song soars in united voice,
O’er the Somme like a soldier’s rejoice,
Full of life and youthful breath,
These rolling hills once consumed by death.
Etched forever upon the wall,
Men who heard the bugle call,
Young and brave they went to fight,
Marching blind into the night.
Through enemy fire and nightly shell,
They descended into a living hell,
And realised through the ceaseless din,
That in this battle, none shall win.
Young men pushed so close to death,
Devoid of hope, take their final breath,
Lives cut short, so heartlessly lost,
The ‘Great War’ had a greater cost.
On that last November day,
Guns were finally put away,
Men returned to home and hearth,
Suffering in silent aftermath.
Not that long, one hundred years,
History’s wheel still wet with tears,
We hold the torch and light the flame,
In the dawn, we remember their names.
Death and loss brought, with war,
A true humanity to our door,
Today we walk these hills of green,
A once painful past is now serene.
Pastures of gold and verdant fields,
Returned to the land as old wounds healed,
Once vicious battlefields caught in strife,
These luscious plains are full of life.
Though the pain will never pass,
Like memories of men from ages past,
Our tears still fall down to the floor,
There are no winners in a war.
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