Apr 26, 2017

WWI Somme battlefields


"I haven't been everywhere but it's on my list." - Susan Sontag

This quote is printed on the back of our beautiful complimentary book from Scenic, about France. And today we visited another place that has long been on our list - The Somme.

One would need days to visit all of the cemeteries and memorials in this district - according to our Australian, French speaking guide , Miriam, there are 412 cemeteries in the Somme.

She painted for us a graphic picture of the conditions endured by the soldiers who fought here. Her account of the death toll here was both shocking and sobering, reinforced by the sight of the lines of white crosses at every memorial we either passed or visited.

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One can't help but be both moved and angered by these sights.

Visiting Villers-Bretonneux, our first stop, we felt privileged to witness a rehearsal for the Anzac Day service on Tuesday.

But for me, there was an extra treat in store when I met up with Brooklyn Lade, one of 8 students who won the 2017 Premier's Anzac Prize and who is a student at Proserpine State High School where I taught until recently for almost 40 years.

An unexpected surprise and one to make this holiday even more special.

On then to the Victoria school at Villers-Bretonneux where we toured their school hall and museum.

I had long heard about their banner displayed across their playground and in every classroom - " Do not forget Australia." (Noublions Jamais L'Australie) The sign says it all.

The children of Villers a Bretonneux raised $20,000 in 2009 for a Victorian school that burnt down during the bushfires and the Victorian students, of course, raised money for the Villers-Bretonneuxx school in 1920. This is an amazing relationship of almost 100 years in duration.

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Then it was on to Possiers followed by Thiepval, the British memorial dedicated to over 72,000 soldiers who lost their lives on these battlefields and concluding with a stop at the Lochnagar Crater Memorial, preserved in memory of the courage and suffering that took place ... on 1st July 1916. What a day!

It is hard to understand how, after the horrendous loss of life and injury in this war, mankind continues to engage in such wars!

We returned to our boat with mixed feelings - both happy to have visited the area but saddened at palpable signs of the carnage that occurred there 100 years ago.