Friday, April 27, 2012

Anzac Day and the journey to Villers Brettoneux.

The Western Front.  It is very hard to describe.  Walking it, as I did, made it easier for me to imagine the life that the soldiers would have led.  I was feeling cold, but the cold they had to put up with was nothing like what I was dealing with, and I had the luxury of a warm dry bed each night, and dry clothes to put on the next day. 

Even with the discomfort of the icy wind constantly battering me the scenes I confronted were peaceful, rural scenes.  The sounds I heard were those of birds, and distant bells chiming from the belfroi and church towers.  Many of the roads were silent, some I walked on without one car passing me in that time and I could walk along lost in my own thoughts.  Those fighting on the Front though would have been subjected to a constant barrage of sound, always on guard, and constantly uncomfortable. 

I walked beside peaceful fields which, almost a hundred years ago, would have been a sea of mud. I walked past, and through, woods which are peaceful and teeming with little creatures, but were treeless back then. At the sight of the South African Monument in Delville Wood there is an enclosure around the "last tree" left standing after the fierce battles that went on there. Now, it is a place of great peace and serenity.

The last tree - at the South African Memorial, Delville Wood.

As I walked I couldn't of course help thinking of those young men who had lost their lives at such an early age - I saw headstones for 17, 18, and 19 year olds - far too young! But, I thought of the women left behind too - the mothers, sisters, girlfriends and wives - a whole generation of women left grieving, not only for what they lost, but what would never be theirs. What a tragic waste. 

The cemetery at Dernancourt.
Flowers placed at Dernancourt - the yellow ones say "Autralie de Sud"

The loss wasn't only the enormous loss of life, but it was also the waste caused trhough the destruction of the land where the fighting took place.  I cannot imagine what it would be like to return to a village and see nothing of it remaining!  Pozieres is an example of such total destruction, and yet the people of that village have rebuilt it and now continue with their lives.  One thing I read somewhere is that the destruction was so complete that no living creature lived there - not even a spider, and one commanding officer was said to have said, weeping, something along the lines of -  we sent our man to fight in THIS! 

Of course the Dawn Service was very moving.  To be there finally, in the bitter cold, and to watch a glimmer of a pink sunrise behind the memorial was special - it was also nice to sit and listen without having any responsibilies for a change.  I managed to get a seat very near the front and so could clearly see averything going on. 

The Cross of Sacrifce, with the Memorial tower behind at the dawn service.

Just to prove I was there!

It is an incredibly well organised machine.  We all got a beautiful souvenir programme, a little badge and there was even coffee and croissants available after should they be wanted.  There was seating for everyone too.  I was getting emails for the week before warning of the cold and the day before the maessage came out that the elderly, sick, and very young should re-consider their need to attend!  Apparently sleet / strong winds / rain etc were expected, but only the wind arrived for the service time.  The gendarmes closed the road form both directions and were out in force directing the traffic in the village of Villers Brettoneux.  Just in the time it took me towalk the kilometre or so back to the village &- buses passed me and there were many more before that too.   Reminded me of the infrastructure in a Jamboree!


1 comment:

  1. Watched the service and looked everywhere for you but definitely missed the pink beanie! However, I'm certain I heard you belting out "Thine be the glory . . ." Yes, a very moving service, as are all Anzac Day services everywhere. There's a good chance Bob and I will be there next year. Look after that foot, and travel safely! Love, Chris