Category Archives: Armistice Centenary Choir

Day 7 – finale: We will remember them

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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

VOB Underground City In Naours

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.

#vobarmistice100 #vobarmistice2018 #wewillrememberthem #letweforget

Day 6: One more sleep! (For us in France anyway!)

It’s been such an incredible week of singing, discovery and nurturing connections between us Australians and the French, while remembering sacrifices made by many soldiers from throughout the world during WW1.

Today (Saturday) was a busy day as we headed to the Australian National Memorial for a final rehearsal with the Airforce Band, as the ABC and Department of Veterans’ Affairs rehearsed the service program for the Centenary of the WW1 Armistice.

We were warned it might be rainy but some of us didn’t expect the quantity of rain and the chill in the air.

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We consoled in the fact that no matter how cold and wet it would be, it was never going to be as bad as what the Anzacs went through with wet and soggy trenches and sometimes snow in the lead up to Christmas. Also, they didn’t just have to deal with the weather, they had to contend with vermin, disease, being fired at and more.

Anytime we could add layers of clean clothing. We enjoyed a break in a heated tent at lunch time. We had it pretty good … thanks to them.

After rehearsals choristers walked behind the Australian National Memorial to the Sir John Monash Centre, which is a cleverly set out museum. Here you can choose to download an App and plug-in your earphones to immerse yourself in WW1 history, where fascinating topics are covered including Monash’s incredible ‘all arms’ 93-minute Battle of Hamel in July 1918, how the war started, why Australia got involved, what they wore, the weapons used and the strategies of battles.

The museum seemed to touch deeply on subjects rarely brought to light, including the indigenous Australians who served. This was represented with an artistic sculpture of two emus. In aboriginal culture it is believed that if a person dies away from their home land, their soul wanders forever.

Another subject covered was how the soldiers felt when the war finally ended on 11 November 1918. Many soldiers couldn’t process what had happened, after too many years of horrific battle. This was represented in the words of one young solider:

“We had two victories today, we won the war and defeated the 5th Field Company at soccer.” 

Choristers spent a few hours wandering the centre before they gathered in the foyer to sing some songs to the visitors. It was a great way to finish the final day of rehearsals and exploration before the big day tomorrow.

We can’t wait to tell you all about it!

#vobarmistice100 #vobarmistice2018 #wewillrememberthem #lestweforget

Day 5: Our hearts are touched by Allonville

We invite you to tune into the Centenary of the First World War Armistice via the ABC at 9.42pm (Brisbane time), or catch the service live here today (Sunday 11 November). ABC coverage of other Armistice Day services are listed here

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On the 9 November, choristers woke for another busy day, while also one of reflection, with each day in the lead up to Armistice Day having historic events which contributed to the end of WW1. Chorister Laurence Nicol shared with the group his feelings towards the day.

“Today marks 100 years since the German people overthrew their monarch, Kaiser Wilhelm II. This was one of the defining events that brought an end to the First World War two days later. For all the fighting, destruction and pointless slaughter, the war was ended not by tanks, artillery bombardments or infantry charges, but by the people of Germany rising up against those responsible for the war on the home front. I doubt this event will get the attention it deserves in the media, but it is a reminder that we all have the power and responsibility to make sure our leaders do not make it happen again.” 

Two of our Accompanying People, Tony Forbes and Ray Jennings (father and grandfather of chorister Shelby) had a moment of reflection of their own, visiting the grave of Ray’s Great Uncle, Reuben John Rule who was killed in action on the 25 July 1916, aged 19 and now rests in Pozieres British Cemetery. It was a beautiful moment and the perfect way for Ray to honour his family.

Following a rehearsal at the Australian National Memorial, the choristers made a short stop at Villers-Bretonneux to explore the Musée Franco-Australien which has been recently renovated and looks amazing.

The museum exhibits the Australian experience in Villers-Bretonneux during the war, with some of the stories including what happened in the town in April 1918. The battle between the British and the Germans marked the world’s first tank battle. The Germans won and had the village occupied, but then lost in a counter attack by two Australian brigades.

The museum overlooks the Victoria school and its playground with a big sign saying “Do not forget Australia”. The original school was destroyed in 1918, so, the Australian soldiers (mainly from Victoria) worked with the Victorian Government and many schools to raise funds to rebuild it, with construction completed in 1927.

From Villers-Bretonneux, the choir was driven to Allonville, with high expectations for a an emotionally stirring, while enjoyable evening. Expectations were met.

Voices of Birralee first met the people of Allonville in July 2016 when Julie Christiansen led a choir to sing at the Centenary of the Battles of Pozieres and Fromelles. The choir performed a community concert in Allonville and at the first commemoration service for the Australian troops who were killed in Allonville.

Chorister Joshua Clifford spoke to some of the locals and heard about The Smart Set, a group of soldiers who had been injured and because they couldn’t serve on the front line, they started a performance troupe to lift morale of soldiers.

Allonville was a place of respite for many soldiers and one night after The Smart Set had performed in a barn there in May 1918, two German shells struck the barn, killing 27 Australian soldiers who were billeted and injuring many others. The Smart Set escaped unharmed and despite the horrific ordeal, they kept travelling throughout the war to lift the spirits of those who needed it most.

Joshua wrote a poem about The Smart Set titled, And Now The War Has Ended, and earlier this year Julie invited world renown composer Paul Jarman to set the words to music, with the commission part-funded by a Pozible fundraising campaign with contributions from the Voices of Birralee and wider community.

Upon arriving to the town, our first stop was the Allonville Communal Cemetery where some of those who died in the horrific event of May 1918 were buried. Having been at the Australian National Memorial (the second image shown in the video below) earlier that day, the cemetery in Allonville was such a contrast – it was small and quaint, but so, so special and beautifully cared for. Just that afternoon the local school children had visited and placed hand-made poppies (crafted out of plastic bottles) onto the graves.

Peter Francis played The Last Post to honour the fallen soldiers, before we stood for a minute’s silence.

The choristers then moved to the nearby church to sound check and get ready for the concert as locals began filling the church.

After much anticipation, we were very excited to finally share And Now the War Has Ended. This is how it went.

The people of Allonville, including friend to Birralee, Martial Louis were moved by the song, along with the Australian contingent of the audience. Martial and the town gifted Joshua a book about Allonville, while Voices of Birralee presented the town a frame with the sheet music and French and Australian lyrics for both And Now the War Has Ended and Fields of Allonville (the piece Joshua wrote first, with music composed by Joseph Twist).

The concert continued to build with the final song, The Parting Glass representing the friendship between Voices of Birralee and Allonville.

After, we were treated to a huge meal provided the the Allonville community. Each of the choristers mingled with the locals, with the locals showing the utmost hospitality producing home-made deer Pâté, wine, Cointreau and other delectable treats to enjoy.

Our pipers, Laurence and Will started playing which encouraged a great display of dancing by our group and the Allonville people who were incredibly festive.

They really knew how to party even though we only had a few hours with them! There were some tears shed leaving, with many of the group moved by the experience and feeling beautifully welcomed.

Thank you to the Allonville community! You will be in our hearts forever!

#vobarmstice100 #vobarmistice2018 #wewillrememberthem

Day 4: Setting foot at the Australian National Memorial

Before we get started with Day 4 … click here for updates on where you can catch ABC coverage of the Armistice Centenary services (please consider AEST & AEDST). 

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We had an early start on Day 4, heading to Megacity, for our first rehearsal with the Air Force Band in the lead up to Sunday’s Centenary Service.

 

It was a great chance to rehearse many pieces we’ll be performing with them on Sunday, which will include both the Australian and French National Anthems and the hymn Be Still My Soul (Finlandia) in the official service with many pieces prior and after the service.

 

It was a beautiful day with blue skies (only cold in the shade) so the perfect chance to see the site with its immaculately kept cemetery and pristine views from the tower.

 

It’s hard to believe the lush green fields in the distance and grounds below the tower would have been consumed by battle 100 years ago, including the Battle of Villers-Bretonneux in April 1918. We were reminded of the toll here with the many graves, row upon row, across the site, along with the 11,000 names listed of those missing on the Australian National Memorial wall.

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A view from the Australian National Memorial Tower (pic by Tony)

Honouring our soldiers through the best way our choristers knew, we sang Good Night Dear Heart (Words Mark Twain, music Dan Forrest) in the tower, while marvelling at the incredible acoustics.

 

The afternoon was jam-packed with rehearsing repertoire, while being a good chance to soak in the atmosphere prior to Sunday before it will be attended by people from across the world paying their respects.

Channel 10 News First captured some of the rehearsal and interviewed one of our choristers, Andy Francis, on his special WW1 connection, check it out below.

 

 

Overall it was a good day, with many of the choristers joining for a group dinner later in Amiens to unwind, which included some more singing.

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The lovely city of Amiens, with the spire of the cathedral in the background (pic by Tony)

Today our choristers are enjoying a break in the morning, before heading back to the Australian National Memorial for rehearsals.

Tonight, the choir will perform at the very special Allonville and are excited to share a newly premiered song to honour the town, And Now The War Has Ended, with words by touring chorister Joshua Clifford. More soon!

#vobarmistice100 #vobarmistice2018 #wewillrememberthem #lestweforget

Day 3: Arriving to Amiens & Fouilloy

Welcome back to the blog! Before we get started, some special info to take note: 

“Australia Remembers: Armistice Day France Service” will be broadcast on the ABC at 9.42pm on Sunday 11 November (Brisbane time).

Also, there’ll be a story on Channel Ten Eyewitness News at 5pm today which will include Voices of Birralee (Friday 9 November). Tune in! 

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Awaking to a rainy day in Bailleul, choristers were treated to a breakfast of delicious croissants and bread provided by the local community, before jumping on the bus to head to Amiens, with a few stops in between.

With the rain limiting outdoor activities, we visited the Somme 1916 Museum which is built upon and within 13th century tunnels that were turned into air-raid shelters before WW2.

The museum is incredibly interesting, delving into the history of the battles of the Somme, and the impact on multiple nations, including Britain, New Foundland, Germany and more, covering themes of the soldiers’ state of mind when they returned home, as well as the role and toll on animals including horses, dogs and pigeons.

After the museum, the choir visited Thiepval Memorial which commemorates 72,000 British and South African soldiers reported missing prior to 20 March 1918.

The monument is very impressive towering at 45m, with a cemetery below. While a sombre sight, it was a beautiful one, flanked by trees with vibrant autumn leaves. One of our choristers, Laurence honoured the fallen soldiers once again with a bagpipes solo.

Our choristers also honoured the troops with an impromptu sing of In Flanders Fields. It was quite a moving experience with many choristers reflecting on what happened in the site and the sacrifices made.

After the historical visits, the choir checked in at their Amiens accommodation and quickly got ready for their second community concert, this time in the village of Fouilloy.

It was quite an intimate concert with a very appreciative audience. It was lovely to perform for another French village and a fun moment (our conductor Julie’s idea) was for each chorister to introduce (in French!) who they were and their profession. I think the audience appreciated our efforts!

After the concert, we were delighted to be led by Fouilloy Deputy Mayor Serge Rondot on a short walk for dinner. On the way we could see the Australian National Memorial in the distance – a perfect reminder of why we’re here and what we have to look forward to.

We were provided a fresh and delicious meal at a local restaurant and we were very appreciative of the warm welcome. It was such as great representation of friendship – another perfect end to a community concert.

More soon.

#vobarmistice100 #vobarmistice2018 #wewillrememberthem

Day 2: Explorations and singing for the beautiful community of Bailleul

Our choristers woke up to a sunny Paris, ready to hit the road for a day of exploration, reflection and singing, all the while heading north to our next port of accommodation and first concert.

(Special thanks to Tony Forbes for the above video) 

With a delay due to traffic, our plans for the day were rearranged on the fly, so we visited the Canadian memorial, Vimy Ridge.

The site boasts a huge monument for the Canadian soldiers of WW1. It stands at around 27m tall, in white. Our choristers took a moment to soak in the atmosphere, with one of our singers, Laurence honouring the soldiers by playing the bagpipes, with the sound floating throughout the memorial and close fields.

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The impressive Vimy Ridge (pic by Lindy)

Another aspect of the site that fascinated was the memorial for the Moroccan troops who fought with Canada. This memorial was particularly important for choristers Yazmin and Safia to acknowledge, as they are half-Moroccan.

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Yasmin and Safia at the Moroccan Memorial (pic by Lindy)

We then visited the Vimy Memorial Park nearby, which is set on a beautiful field with lush green grass, however, with the troughs created by mines and bombs from the war.

Our choristers participated in a tour which took the group through a tunnel under the field, which had been built to provide added coverage for soldiers.

Hitting the road again en route to Bailleul, the choir rehearsed on the bus to brush up on songs in the lead up to the first community concert.

VOB Armistice Tour

The choristers arrive at Bailleul City Hall (pic provided by Elise)

Our welcome to Bailleul began with a beautiful reception at Bailleul City Hall by Deputy Mayor Sébastien Malesys with his colleagues Olivia, Anne and Lucy.

(Special thanks to Tony Forbes for the above video) 

The choir then walked to the church behind city hall to prepare for the concert and as soon as they entered they realised the beauty of the performance venue, Église Saint-Vaast. The church was huge, with incredible resonance which is always a pleasure to sing in.

The concert experience was wonderful, with a crowd of around 200 who all seemed very moved by what we sang.

(Special thanks to Craig Donaldson for the above video) 

We were grateful to have attendance by Mayor Marc Deneuche and again by Sebastien, both of whom expressed their appreciation for our visit. It was an amazing experience to be able to connect with the locals through music.

(Special thanks to Craig Donaldson for the above video) 

One of these connections was the Francis family meeting a local who had found a bugle from WW1 which was inscripted with the maker’s details from London as well as the owners’ details. It noted it had been owned by an Australian soldier who coincidently had served in the same battalion as the grandfather of Heather Francis, who is playing flute for our choir.

After the concert, the locals treated our choir and APs to an impressive supper. It was a wonderful end to a great day of music making and friendship.

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Today (Wednesday) the choir headed to Amiens, with a few historical stops on the way, followed by a community concert in Fouilloy.

More soon!

#vobarmistice100 #vobarmistice2018 #lestweforget #wewillrememberthem

Day 1: The Amistice trail begins!

Welcome to the Armistice Centenary Choir blog! We can’t wait to provide you a daily recap of the goings on of our tour this week from now until after the Centenary of the First World War Armistice this Sunday.

 

It all began Sunday afternoon with our choristers, Conductor Julie Christiansen OAM, Assistant Conductor Jenny Moon, and many accompanying people, meeting in Paris, some having enjoyed a short holiday prior, with others arriving on a red-eye direct from Brisbane.

The group united for a rehearsal to revise the many songs to be performed for the week, before a group dinner at the accommodation.

With leisure time scheduled for the evening, some of our choristers checked out a quirky underground jazz club, Le Caveau De La Huchette, stopping at an Aussie bar on the way, with some settling for an early night.

VOB Armistice Choir

Simon and Elise enjoy the Jazz Club.

Monday marked the first official day of tour, beginning with a morning rehearsal to lock in the repertoire, before exploring the sights of Paris.

 

 

 

 

 

It was a beautiful almost ‘t-shirt weather’ kind of day (a contrast to the chilly European weather in recent weeks). Stops included a gallery of lighting installations, Atelier des Lumieres, seeing the massive Eiffel Tower under blue skies, climbing 300 steps to relish in the expansive views from the top of the SacréCœur basilica, or simply finding a good coffee shop to keep the caffeine cravings at bay.

 

 

 

 

 

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In the afternoon, the group met for the first performance of tour – singing under the l’Arc de Triomphe as part of the Ravivage de la Flamme ceremony. This rekindling of the flame ceremony is held every night to honour an unkown French soldier who gave his life during WW1, while being a meaningful ceremony of war remembrance.

L’Arc de Triomphe is looking a little different to usual, with tiered seating both on the inner side of the busy round-a-bout and on the outer in the lead up to Sunday’s Armistice Day. It was still impressive and great to see the Armistice commemorations will take place far and wide.

Voices of Birralee Armistice Day Tour

All dressed and ready for the first performance (pic by Maree)

We sang a few warm up songs before the service began, with three songs, For the Fallen, Hymne à la Nuit, and the French National Anthem sang during the official proceedings.

 

 

The French veterans seemed very appreciative of our involvement and we were honoured to play a part, especially during this incredible week of world remembrance. A special moment was when one of the spokespeople told the crowd of Australia’s experience of fighting in Northern France during World War One and our country’s allegiance with France.

 

 

 

 

 

After the ceremony, choristers enjoyed dinner, with some watching the Eiffel Tower light show. Many tried to get an early night with Tuesday set to be a big day which will include the choir appropriately visiting the Armistice Museum in Compiegne, Vimy Ridge and other memorials.

The choir is looking forward to then arriving in Bailleul for the first community concert.

We can’t wait to share what we discover!

A special thank you to Tony Forbes for his videos and the choristers for contributing to this blog. 

#vobarmistice100 #vobarmistice2018 #lestweforget