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Sunday, April 27, 2014

ANZAC Day 2014...

This day, April 25, is like the Aussie and New Zealand version of Memorial Day in the US, where service men and women are paid tribute for their efforts in times of war...and especially those who died while serving. Services, marches, and ceremonies honour these people. This year DH and I were fortunate in that we were able to join some friends of ours at 2 ANZAC ceremonies in France. In France...you may wonder?? 
I had heard over the years of French villagers who continued to honour the Australian soldiers who, during the First World War helped save these villages from the enemy...I had read articles of how these villagers came to idolise the Aussie soldiers...and this was passed on to the subsequent generations. One such village was Villers Bretonneux. They have never forgotten...each year there would be wreathe laying ceremonies on ANZAC Day. Just outside the village there is a war cemetery where Allied soldiers are buried. 
There is also a huge Australian War Memorial which is the scene of an ANZAC Dawn service each year, attended by dignities from government ( Australian, NZ, Canadian, British, French etc) and all 3 military services plus thousands of ordinary Australians (and some NZ ers)  and many employees from the Department of Veterans' Affairs in the Federal government. 
My friend Carmen's great uncle lost his life in this area and is buried in one of the war cemeteries, and we teamed up with her family and another friend, to be there. ( I also saw another friend who was also there among the 6000...she knew DH and I would be there from Facebook but we didn't know she was even in France...lovely surprise) 
It was the most awe inspiring and emotional experience to have! 
Our alarm was set for 2 am but none of us had gotten much sleep after we had said goodnight at 10pm after meeting up for dinner the night before in Amiens...

We had to meet at the square near the Carlton Hotel in Amiens at 2.55 am to catch our shuttle buses which would take us out to Villers Bretonneux...it was a five minute stroll from our hotel. There were hundreds of people already there when we arrived at 2.45 am...
The buses start to arrive...

We were on the B series of shuttle buses so we had a little longer to wait. My friend had brought over some wreaths made with sprays of wattle (artificial of course) which she would place at the 2 ceremonies.


The drive to the war memorial took approximately 30 minutes. When we arrived we saw the huge numbers if people making their way up the hill to the memorial. It was eerie...people walked silently in the dark...plastic matting made temporary pathways thus avoiding the muddy wet ground.


The Australian flag and the French flag at half mast...




An army officer who served with Carmen's son stops to have a word with him and his family...

The camera crews at the side rush to get footage of a French soldier who was obviously very important...

Before the service, music and vocalists were provided by the Australian Army Band and choirs from The Hutchins School and St Michael's Collegiate School of Hobart. And images from WW1 were projected on the wall of the tower of the memorial.

Near the end of the service was the wreath laying...governments first and finally families...Carmen and her son laid the wreath of wattle sprays...


By the end of the service the sun was up and it was very very cold...


The names of the dead are on the wall you can see in this photo above...they are grouped by battalion and battlefield of the Western Front as it was known in WW1.




I said it was cold didn't I?
Some of the war graves of Commonwealth soldiers who died in battles here in World War 1



After a very welcome hot drink in one of the hospitality tents we headed to where we had to meet B4 shuttle bus which would take us to the village for the next ceremony.
The banner on the village hall building...

The Town Hall was decorated with green and gold bunting and sported 'kangaroos' grazing on the lawn!


Three of the ladies in the centre of the photo are employees of the Dept of Veterans Affairs in the Australian Government and they were organising before the ceremony began... 
A representative of the NZ military hands in a wreath to be presented during the ceremony...

More last minute organising...
Part of the lovely memorial in the village...

The second ceremony was much shorter and of course had more speeches in French from the local dignitaries.the Australian government was against represented by Julie Bishop...the Foreign Minister.



Carmen gets instructions from the paparazzi before she lays the wreath...she ended up having to do it twice ...



And just a few more photos in this lovely village in the Somme district...

We'd seen 2 ladies with glittery Stetson like hats with Aussie flag scarves the day before...sure enough we saw them at the smaller ceremony...here's one of the ladies talking to our bus organiser...


Even though we were exhausted by the time we got back to Amiens...we wouldn't have missed that opportunity for anything!

12 comments:

JeanN said...

Oh thank you Maria. I may never get to witness this in person, but I do now feel that I have been there.

Vireya said...

I watched some of the service live on TV and looked for you in the crowd. Didn't realise from the TV just how cold it must have been!

Cheryl said...

Must have been an amazing experience Maria to be there in person

shez said...

What an amazing experience Maria,thankyou for sharing your lovely pics.xx

Susan said...

I'm sure that memory will stay with you for a long time. It would have been very emotionally draining I think.

duchess_declutter said...

Goodness Maria, what a memory for you all. I actually watched the live telecast of this ceremony (pretty sure it was this one) also the Gallipoli ceremony - after attending our local dawn service. So it was great to see your photos too. You are certainly having a wonderful, very well planned holiday! Enjoy. cheers Wendy

Maree: said...

Amazing Experience for you Thanks for sharing Great post.

Marilyn said...

That would have been an amazing time. We watched the dawn service from there on tv, and I was thinking of you.

Valerie said...

An amazing experience .

allotmentadventureswithjean said...

What an amazing experience for you Maria.

I went over to Jindalee on Anzac day to see my little grandsons march and attended the ceremony there.

When I returned home I watched all the different services on the tele and would you believe it, I saw the one you attended in France at Villers Bretonneux. Very moving.

Susan said...

I've always loved how the Australian Soldiers have been remembered there and it was very special to read your post Maria. Thank you for taking us along with you. A long day but, yes, can understand what an incredible experience it must have been :D)

Marit Johanne said...

It must have been an amazing experience to join this ceremony in France.