Tag Archives: ww1

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 10 – A fitting farewell

Our choristers’ last official day of tour began with a special surprise for their conductor and Voices of Birralee’s Artistic Director and Founder, Julie Christiansen OAM.

Julie was led to Amiens Cathedral where the choir sang Notre Pere, a beautiful gift resonating throughout the cathedral, which Julie described as “soul filling, sublime and tranquil”.

Soon after, the choir left Amiens for their final performance, singing at the commemoration service for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Pozieres. The service held at the First Australian Division Memorial can be watched on ABC iView here.

The service was beautiful, beginning with the marching in of the colours of 12 current serving units holding direct lineage to those who fought.

A number of stories were told of the bravery of the soldiers in what was a fierce battle, with 23,000 casualties between 23 July and 4 September 1916, with more than 6,700 killed (more here).

The horrific events of the first battle of the Somme, led historian Charles Bean to note the fields surrounding this site as being ‘more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other spot on earth’. (Referenced here in ‘Australians on the Western Front 1914 – 1918′).

Stories were told of the events which led to troops receiving Victoria and Military Cross medals, while also noting the dedication of the Australian Army Nursing Service.

Hon Dan Tehan, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of Anzac, noted how the efforts of the Anzacs were even more impressive given their involvement wasn’t by conscription.

“Unlike other forces, our soldiers were not forced to March, but chose to walk – an army of volunteers…They volunteered to serve, despite the risk, the greatest risk, of them all.” 

 

Our choristers performed beautifully, each with a different reason for being a part of it all. Sarah Morton, noted her pride:

“It was very special to be wearing my grandfather’s medals alongside my great great uncle Cecil’s sovereign case yesterday at Pozieres. Cecil fought on the Western Front in France before going to Belgium where he was killed in battle and now lies. It is such a privilege to be able to honour him and those men who fought beside him and those who subsequently and continue to put everything on the line in order to afford us the wonderful life we live.”

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Upon returning to Amiens, we had a special dinner before our choristers went their separate ways – some to pursue further travel, with others returning to Australia.

This was a lovely way to debrief after a massive and emotionally charged week. It was so much fun, with lots of singing by the canal.

A lovely moment was when some talented local buskers approached our table – They might have got more than what they had bargained for!

Each chorister and AP will have different highlights from the week, and one of these came from AP / musician / dad Peter Francis. He noted the tour highlight was in Allonville with five family members involved in the performances. Peter played percussion, Heather Francis played the Flute, choristers Margie and Andy sang, while their brother (and former Birralee chorister) Tim played the trumpet.

Over the week our choristers bonded and sang at such a high standard. Most choristers were from Resonance of Birralee, and some were from Birralee Blokes, coming together to form this unique Western Front Centenary Choir.

Claire Preston who assisted Julie with conducting, shared her gratitude with Resonance of Birralee and Blokes’ conductor Paul Holley OAM, while noting the incredible opportunity.

“It was such a pleasure working with your Resonance and Blokes singers – They welcomed me warmly and were fabulous ambassadors. Every performance they gave everything they had to make it their best and they were a very fun loving tour family.

“I thoroughly enjoyed the trip and have too many highlights to list. I’ve left a piece of my heart in Allonville and have promised to return. It was a privilege to tour the battlefields and an honour to sing for our fallen. Lifetime memories!” 

All of the choristers will cherish the lifetime memories taken from this trip, with some very special thank yous to those who have made it possible! A huge thank you to:

  • Vicki Munday and Robert Knight, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
  • Eric Brisse from the Somme Region for his wonderful support and organisation.
  • Kim Sutherland and Paul Jarman, Hunter Singers.
  • Allan Turner and Neil Phillips of the Ashgrove – The Gap Lions Club, and the club for its ongoing support and assistance in our fundraising efforts.
  • The Mayor of Fromelles, Jean-Gabriel Masson.
  • The Mayor, Patrick Simon, and Deputy-Mayor, Benoit Decottegnie, of Villers-Brettoneux and the community for their ongoing support and hospitality.
  • The Mayor, Mr Joël Delrue, and Deputy-Mayor, Mr Lemaire, of Allonville and the community for their warm hospitality.
  • Matthieu for his wonderful assistance and the AV team for making the choir sound fabulous.

AND a big thanks to our families and friends back home for following our journey! We appreciate your support!

#vobwfchoir

(Keep up to date with our centenary tours via our Facebook group)

Day 9: Paying tribute, and Allonville hospitality

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!

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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.

More soon!

#vobwfchoir

(Keep up to date with our centenary tours via our Facebook group)

Day 8: Exploring the Somme, and a warm VB welcome!

On this tour, we are getting very good at packing as much into our days as possible!

Having arrived in Amiens yesterday, we took the morning to explore this picturesque town, with such evidence of its ongoing appreciation for Australia’s efforts 100 years’ ago!

Matthew and Fiona visited the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Amiens, also known as Notre Dame Amiens. It is such a massive and stunning cathedral, and possibly grander than its Paris counterpart!

The pair visited one of the little chapels in the cathedral, which displays all the flags of the allies. The original Australian flag that was given to the city in 1918, hangs high, with the words:

“The Australian flag is a gift to the city of Amiens from the Government of Australia and commemorates the brotherhood in arms of the sons of Australia with those of France in the defence of the city in the year 1918.” 

The choristers in the afternoon had their rehearsal at the First Australian Division Memorial, Pozieres in preparation for the service on Saturday. The weather has cooled down a bit, which is great!

This site acknowledges the toll on the soldiers in the Battle of Pozieres, from 23 July – 7 August, 1916.

The 1st Australian Division were first on the line, and captured the town of Pozieres from the Germans on 23 July 1916. When relieved on 27 July, by the 2nd Division, they had suffered 5,285 casualties. The 2nd Division gained more German positions, with the 4th next to the line. Despite all divisions suffering an incredible number of casualties, the Germans were defeated in their final attempt to take the village, on 7 August (read more here).

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After a great rehearsal, we were dismissed early so took it as a chance to visit Thiepval Memorial, which honours the missing of the Somme, including the 72,000 officers and troops of the United Kingdom and South African forces killed before 20 March 1918.

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The site also serves as an Anglo-French Battle Memorial honouring the joint nature of the 1916 offensive. At the base of the memorial is a small cemetery with equal numbers of Commonwealth and French graves. (More here)

It was such a chilling place, bringing home how this war didn’t just have a massive impact on Australia, but a great deal of the Commonwealth, including the UK and South Africa.

The choristers were incredibly moved by this site, and sang an emotionally charged In Flanders Fields.

Also visiting the the museum, the choristers sang, Notre Père (The Lord’s Prayer) as a tribute to the missing of the Somme.

A lady who had guided one of our April tour groups through the Somme 1916 Museum in Albert,  happened to be at this memorial.

She told us that she didn’t recognise our shirts or our names, but she recognised our sound! What a beautiful coincidence, and interesting compliment, considering it’s the first centenary tour for the majority of our choristers!

In the evening we visited the beautiful village of Villers-Bretonneux to perform a concert to the community who were a modest, but enthusiastic crowd. This was our third occasion performing in this village, and just like in April 2015 and 2016, we were welcomed so warmly!

The French songs were a big hit again, and a number of audience members were invited to sing with our choristers!

A huge thank you to Villers-Bretonneux for their kind hospitality which included a delicious dinner for us all to enjoy!

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Upon heading back to Amiens, some decided to enjoy a drink by the canal before visiting the cathedral for the son et lumière (light show)  and thank goodness we did – it was glorious!

The display showed how the cathedral was originally painted, and how it has changed over the years.

We couldn’t understand the narrative as it was in French, but it didn’t matter – it was captivating.

We encouraged everyone to then have a reasonably early night as Day 9 will include more rehearsals in Pozieres, with our final town concert in Allonville.

We can’t wait to let you know how we get on!

#vobwfchoir

(Follow our Western Front tours via our Facebook group)

Day 5 – One more sleep!

Day five was massive!

Our Western Front Centenary Choir choristers woke early to arrive to a full day’s rehearsal at Pheasant Wood Cemetery, Fromelles.

It was a rather hot day (even for us Aussies!) but an interesting day as the choir watched how the service was coming together, orchestrated by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

Our singers, of course, showed great professionalism while they hurried into position and then waited while the other components of the service were worked through, to ensure a smooth event day for the anniversary service for the Battle of Fromelles.

It was a great chance to absorb the setting further, while acknowledging just how important the role is that our 15 choristers will be playing!

The services at Pheasant Wood Cemetery and VC Corner Australian Cemetery and Memorial are going to be incredibly moving for our choristers, and we invite you to tune in from home to support them in this significant event…or at least record the late ones to watch at a more reasonable hour (Tuesday 19 July).

Here’s the programme:

ABC News 24
8.30pm. Australia Remembers: Fromelles Preview

9.00pm Service from Fromelles – Pheasant Wood

ABC
11.10pm. Service from Fromelles – Pheasant Wood. (Delayed telecast)

12.50am (Wed) service from VC Corner

 

The next stage of the day was to sing at a combined concert with Newcastle’s the Hunter Singers, at Fromelles Church.

Avoiding sites that weren’t touched by WW1 in this region proves difficult! Fromelles Church was destroyed in WW1, with the current church built upon the previous church’s foundations, from 1924. The village church, featuring a neo-roman style sits just near Pheasant Wood Cemetery.

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Isy and Margie outside Fromelles Church, Pic by Chris

 

It was such a lovely setting for our choristers to perform in, and you can hear them practise here.

Our chorister Laurence Nicol greeted the attendees, playing the bagpipes to get them ready for an evening of stunning music presented by both choirs.

Our Western Front Centenary Choir’s conductor Julie Christiansen OAM had selected repertoire which she hoped would appeal to the French audiences and appeal it did – the audience loved hearing the choir sing pieces in French. They were absolutely wowed by the performances, and what we’ve discovered on all of our three centenary tours, so far, is how the locals love that we can achieve songs in their language.

A highlight of the concert was the Hunter Singers premiering their tribute to WWI, a song titled Fromelles, composed by Paul Jarman. It was such a special tribute to our Anzacs and their sacrifices here, 100 years ago. There weren’t many dry eyes during this piece, and a number of the other stunning songs of the programme.

There were so many special moments, but a standing ovation and encore was another highlight, where the audience showed how much they were impressed.

After the concert, we encouraged our choristers to have an early night, although the excitement for Day 6 was tricky to suppress!

Tuesday will begin with an early start to get to Pheasant Wood Cemetery before the crowds, with our choristers to sing in the late morning at the pre-service and service.

We’ll have a break to check our some of the festivities happening around the site, as part of the town’s anniversary programme, before arriving to VC Corner Australian Cemetery and Memorial for the afternoon’s service.

It’s bound to be an awesome day for our choristers, and one we are so proud to be involved in!

More soon!

#vobwfchoir

(Keep up-to-date with our tours via our Friends of Birralee’s Anzac Centenary Tours Facebook group). 

Day Four – In Flanders Fields

Day four was busy, marked by two rehearsals, one at VC Corner, and the second at Pheasant Wood Cemetery.

Our choristers did a remarkable job singing with the Australian Army Band, while being amazed at how the events are coming together, with everyone’s role to play in making the services a success.

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The services in Fromelles; at Pheasant Wood and VC Corner, will be absolutely incredible, paying particular reference to the 24 hours in 1916 that were so tragic in Australia’s military history.

Between rehearsals, our choristers were moved by the stories they heard at VC Corner, while witnessing a beautiful activation currently being pieced together near the memorial. As part of the 5000 Poppies project, 26,500 poppies have been handcrafted by people across the world to be planted, honouring the tragic toll in the Somme.

While each poppy is different, they will all contribute to a sensational and incredible scene; a sea of red poppies. This activation was previously completed for the Chelsea Flower Show, which warranted a visit from the Royal Family. Our choristers were delighted to give the designers a hand to plant some of the stunning poppies.

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The site was beautiful, and hard to believe the turmoil that would have existed 100 years ago. Our Western Front Centenary Choir decided to perform for the 5,000 Poppies creators, by singing In Flanders Fields.

Another rehearsal was held at Pheasant Wood Cemetery. This site is where a mass grave was discovered in 2009, with the remains of 250 British and Australian soldiers who died in the battle of Fromelles. The grave was dug by the German forces in July 1916.

On Tuesday, 3,500 people will watch the commemoration service here, and then stay on to watch the live stream of the VC Corner service.

(For those playing at home, Tuesday’s services will be broadcast on ABC 24 from 8.30pm). 

The infrastructure at this site was amazing – how they have designed the area, without encroaching upon the sacredness, has been done so respectfully and effectively.

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The rehearsals were very successful, allowing the choir to feel confident for the days ahead.

In other news, while the choir was busy rehearsing and exploring, some of our APs (accompanying people) visited a neighbouring country…as you can in Europe!

Lyn, Kym and Robyn had an eventful day travelling to Brugge, although the journey was a bit tricky, changing three trains along the way – but it was worth the effort!

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They discovered Brugge, in North West Belgium, is a charming, canal town with many beautiful medieval buildings – an extremely easy town to spend wandering around.

The trio took a canal cruise – imagine 40 people in an open boat zipping up and down – with the guide providing commentary translation in English so the points of interest could be known.

Some of the buildings date back to the 12th and 13th centuries, with the unique step style roof lines typical of the Brugge area.

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Lunch was a sandwich in a tiny little shop with the all important free wi-fi, then it was time to explore again. This included stopping by some lovely shops filled with handmade lace and tapestries, with sightseeing around town, while locating the all important Belgian chocolate and nougat! (Some of the choir had given Lyn, Kym and Robyn strict instructions to return with chocolate, so it had to be obliged!)

The evening included Robyn stopping by the Picasso exhibition full of wonderful etchings and prints, while Kym and Lyn went to buy yet more chocolate, some lace and visited the Begijnhof, an abbey type establishment run by a group of Benedictine nuns. The area is heritage listed as there are so few of them left in Belgium.

The return home was eventful, being left on a deserted train platform in the middle of nowhere, but the intended connection eventually arrived and they got home to Lille safely.

And Lille is proving to be a great base for our choristers and APs. A lovely cultural town with dancing in the town square in the evening, as well as some delicious cuisines…with crepes being a highlight!

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It’s going to be a busy couple of days for our choristers, with tomorrow (Monday), a full day of rehearsals at Pheasant Wood, with a concert at Fromelles Church with the Hunter Singers in the evening.

We’ll let you know how it all goes!

#vobwfchoir

(To keep up to date with these WW1 Centenary tours, join our Facebook group – Friends of Birralee’s Anzac Centenary Tours here).