Tag Archives: Anzac Day

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.


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.


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 7: Rest day, and exploration.

The countdown is almost over – it is Anzac Day tomorrow!

We enjoyed a rest day today (Sunday), where we opted to chill out, or set off and explore more of the region. A number of us took it as an opportunity to discover the Somme.

Our first stop was the 1st Australian Division Memorial in Pozières. This is one of the sites where our July tourers will perform for the 100th year commemoration of the Battles of Pozières. We learnt from the history plaques that during seven weeks from July, 1916, more than 6,700 Australian soldiers lost their lives; which marks the most soldiers lost in one battle field.

Next stop was The Museum of the Somme, in Albert. The museum is set upon very cool tunnels, which were built like many in the region, for the purpose of taking cover from any Spanish or Normand invasion around the 16th century. The museum tunnels now feature artefacts and historic displays, with a focus on WW1.

Over the past week we have been immersed in Australia’s WW1 history in France, however, visiting this museum provided us more of an overall picture on other countries’ involvement, including the allied forces and Germany. We saw what a German trench looked like, while viewing each countries’ choice of weapons and uniforms.

Photography included a picture of what the town of Albert looked like in 1916, a town that was flat and destroyed, compared to what it looks like now.

The museum also featured letters from soldiers, satirical post cards, while drawing attention to identities that became known from WW1 for  various reasons, such as John Mc Crae, a field sergeant with the Canadian Artillery. He wrote the poem, In Flanders Fields, which is part of our repertoire. Mc Crae died in 1918 in Boulogne, Northern France, from pneumonia.

After the museum, we explored the gardens and the town, had a quick bite to eat, before jumping on the bus for the next historic destination.

Exploring the Australian Corps Memorial was next on the list. The site, which overlooks the town of Le Hamel, with vast and stunning views, acknowledges Australia’s efforts in the region. It is said that the Battle of Hamel took just 93 minutes in July 1918 – more info here. The significant work of Lieutenant General John Monash from Melbourne, whom Monash University was named after, is recognised here. One of the plaques includes a quote from Monash, where he describes a battle plan as being similar to orchestral arrangements and musicians.

“A perfect modern battle plan is like nothing so much as a score for an orchestral composition, where the various arms and units are the instruments, and the tasks they perform are their respective musical phrases…” 

The memorial features the Australian, Britain, American, France and Canadian flags. We decided to honour those lost with a song.

The day was rounded up with a stop at The Adelaide Cemetery in Villers-Bretonneux. It was from this cemetery where the remains of ‘The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier’ were transferred to the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

We located this grave, where Governor-General, Peter Cosgrove had already visited this morning to lay a wreath. It was beautiful to also see a cross from Como West Public School, NSW saying; “Thank you for helping me, my family and my country. Lest we forget.” 

One of our choristers, Gerard, had been tasked by the Caboolture/Morayfield RSL to locate a grave of a soldier known to one of their member’s families. 

At the Adelaide Cemetery, Gerard found Lance Corporal William Overend Wilson’s grave to lay a poppy.

Wilson was in the 31st Australian Infantry Battalion. He was the son of John Radcliffe Wilson and Marie Catherine Maud Wilson, of Mount Surprise Station, Frewhurst, and was born in Cairns, Queensland, however, was associated with Esk. He was a Distinguished Conduct Medal and Military Medal recipient and died on 25 May, 1918, aged 25.

Gerard will now be able to return home and share pictures of his findings with the RSL, while noting the location of the grave. It is in a place that is so geographically different to what Lance Corporal Wilson would have known in 1918.

Today was an awesome way to further explore the history and stories of WW1, which amplifies the importance of why we are in France for Anzac Day.

We are all going to have a rest now, to be on the bus for 1am (Monday) to head to The Australian National Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux for the Dawn Service, followed by a service at The Digger Memorial, Bullecourt.

It’s going to be an incredibly emotional, tiring day, which will be so rewarding as we honour the Anzacs in this significant commemorative event.

We can’t wait to let you know how it goes!

Lest we forget.

(Stay up to date with news at Friends of Birralee’s Anzac Centenary Tours).

Day 3: Off to Amiens and VB – where it all begins

So the ‘leisure’ part is over – the reality of what this trip is actually about is just beginning to set in.

Today we checked out of our Paris hotel, heading for Amiens around noon.

Passing fields of canola flowers, wind farms and gorgeously French little villages, we arrived in Amiens two hours later.

With a number of choristers taking a stroll into the town for an afternoon snack, we were suddenly given a glimpse at how much the sacrifices of Australians means to the people in this region of the Somme. It is Australia Week, a week dedicated to the events surrounding Anzac Day, so the streets were flanked by Australian flags, however, it was the fixtures on this mall that gave us shivers:

‘Thanks’ is written on one side of the mall, with’Merci’ on the other, with the letters highlighted by historic WW1 images.

It’s incredible that what Australia did for this region about 100 years ago is still remembered as if it were yesterday. We’re constantly trying to discover more about the events that went on in this part of the world, and one significant event that stands out is what occurred in April 1918. Germany had taken hold of Villers-Bretonneux, a strategic position in their invasion of the Somme, but within 48 hours Australia had moved in and claimed the town back for France. The following words seem to sum up what the sentiment was at the time for our Aussie soldiers, and it is a sentiment that is still very much apparent today.

‘As Bishop of Amiens I owe you and your illustrious dead my heartfelt thanks because the land of my diocese has been your field of battle, and you have delivered it by the sacrifice of your blood. During the painful days of the invasion you made a rampart of your breasts, behind which you shielded and saved the last shreds of my territory … the children who in coming centuries will grow up in your homes and schools, will learn through your good deeds the lessons of patriotism. They will not be able to pronounce your name without speaking of the towns, villages, tablelands, ridges and valleys of the Somme.’ 

7 November 1920, Notre Dame d’Amiens Cathedral, the Bishop of Amiens (http://www.ww1westernfront.gov.au/villers-bretonneux/amiens-cathedral.php)

This feeling of gratitude was further amplified when we arrived in Villers-Bretonneux, for our concert in the Covered Market for the local community.

Inside the hall, there were the familiar colours of green and gold, Australian flags, with Australian-themed artwork from the local children.

We were treated to a generous dinner cooked by the Australia Week volunteers, before the Covered Market was packed with locals, including the Mayor and Deputy Mayor. We were also joined by Royal Australian Air Force Band flautist Vicky, who beautifully complemented our vocals in Ave Maria. 

It was a fun evening with our repertoire very well received, while a number of choristers bravely introduced various songs in French to the audience.

A highlight was the crowd-participation pieces, including Waltzing Matilda. The community joined in, with some singing the words, and others clapping along.

At the end of the concert, they clapped until we sung an encore song…. or two.

It was such wonderful recognition of the Villers-Bretonneux and Australian connection, and to know that we are now part of that, is something that none of the choristers are taking lightly.

Tomorrow we’ll be heading to Bullecourt for rehearsals, while exploring more about Australia and France’s WW1 history at museums and memorials.

We’ll let you know what we discover.

(Make sure you sign up to Friends of Birralee’s Anzac Centenary Tours for all the updates!).

Voices of Birralee celebrates the Aussies!

Australia’s choral scene has a lot to offer, from the talented composers, to the high quality choirs and the brilliant opportunities for choristers to develop both musically and socially.

This month we celebrate Australia Day, so we thought we’d praise the Aussie composers, by highlighting some of Birralee’s favourite songs the ensembles have performed over the years.

We must begin with one of Birralee’s favourite composers, Paul Jarman. Paul has been involved with Birralee for many years and his involvement has included working with various ensembles, particularly on how each choir can get the best outcome when performing his stunning pieces.

His involvement with Birralee has been with its choirs both in Australia and during overseas tours and in 2010 this included Paul conducting the Brisbane Birralee Voices (BBV) during their European tour. In Hradec Kralove BBV sang one of Paul’s extremely moving compositions, Shackleton, a tribute to the Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton.

On the same tour, BBV performed Magnetic Island – Suite II, composed by Paul, with Simon Self. This piece was conducted by Voices of Birralee’s Artistic Director and Founder Julie Christiansen OAM.

Another favourite piece of Paul’s is Pemulwuy – in fact we loved it so much we named our triennial male voice festival after it – Pemulwuy! National Male Voice Festival. This clip shows just how powerful the piece is, performed at the 2014 festival finale.

Another great composer Birralee worked with was Harley Mead, and when both Harley and Paul joined forces, their choral music was taken to an even greater level. Here’s an example of their great work with Voices of Birralee singing This Golden Land at the 2014 end of year concert.

We also love this piece composed solely by Harley, Mother Earth, which BBV sang in 2011, conducted by Julie.

For our younger choirs, the Aussie composer that has stood out is Brisbane-based Sherelle Eyles. Her music celebrates Australia and features some of our more unique animals and places, while being designed to be fun and educational. Some favourites include, Crocodile, Kakadu, The Barrier Reef, The Bilby, The Carpet Python, The Dugong, The Gecko and The Great Australian Bight, with the latter performed here by our Birralee Kids and Piccolos at the 2013 Cup Cake and Cushion concert.

Another example of a standout Aussie composer is Mark Puddy. Last year Birralee Blokes Conductor Paul Holley chose to teach his choristers Mark’s Here You Lie.

The song, which pays tribute to a speech by WW1 Commander and the first president of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, was explored during our State Library of Queensland Q ANZAC 100: Memories for a New Generation Historypin project. Check it out here.

Another great composer is Elena Kats-Chernin with her piece The Gardens Symphony, which we performed as our mass choir grand finale piece at last year’s 20th Anniversary Concert.

Throughout Birralee’s history, we have also honoured well-known Australian songs, including Advance Australia Fair (written by the Scottish-born Peter Dodds McCormick), which in this clip is performed by our Anzac Commemoration Choir in Villers-Bretonneux, France in April, 2015.

And Waltzing Matilda (words by Banjo Paterson), with renditions including by our Anzac Commemoration Choir on the steps of Amiens Town Hall, France, with the second version performed by BBV in the Piazza San Marco in Venice, Italy in 2014 (this arrangement by Ruth McCall).


The list could go on with our other favourite Aussie pieces! If you have a favourite song that Birralee has sung over the years by an Australian composer, let us know by commenting below, or emailing marketing@birralee.org.

Happy Australia Day!