Saturday, April 19, 2014

A reflection before coming home - by Otis

Since I missed my day on the blog, Tric asked me to write a reflection on the trip.  I thought I’d talk about the people I’ve been with for these past two weeks.

Amanda’s the soul of the trip, the joker that kept us all in line. A real character, always fun to be around and always kept us on track.

Sanduni is a bundle of energy, the sunshine of the trip. A laugh that cheered up the whole bus.

Michael is sharp as a tack, and the cleanest and neatest roommate I’ve ever had. A great guy.

I thought Sam was a Flunch because of his green, stripy blazer, but he’s alright I guess. The funniest roommate, waking up to Kanye West as our alarm every morning was the Kanye Best.

Breanna, or Benedict Cumberbatch as she likes to be called. Amazing fun to joke around with, I wish we’d started talking earlier in the trip.

Travis, the most considerate roommate. When he was up early, he did his best not to wake me. When I tried to return the favour, I tripped over on my backpack and face planted into the ground. Great fun to be around, even if you thought my music was crap.

Charlotte was the youngest, but the best haggler and most fluent of all of us. Charming and sweet.

Claire was the trooper of the trip, unwell with a cold for the majority of it, but she was always on the bus smiling, taking pictures and asking Bruce amazing questions.

Bianca’s the most outgoing, animated one on the trip. Friends with everyone, and could talk to anyone. Always energized the bus when we were exhausted.

I probably spent the most amount of time with Steph, considering we were pretty much always next to each other on the plane. Super nice, open and charming.

Laura’s the quiet shy one, but once she opens up she’s hilarious and sweet. The tough West Footscray girl.

Lila’s bright, smart and funny. The friendliest person, was genuinely interested in everyone and everything. Absolutely lovely.

Carl is the most genuine, caring person I’ve met. Absolutely hilarious, I will never not laugh at the image of you and your fez. We’ll get Royales with Cheese next time we’re in a French Maccas.

Tric’s the heart of the trip, and we always knew where she was because we could hear her laugh a mile off.

Bruce is the smartest, kindest and most forgetful person on the trip. Our fearless leader throughout the battlefields, a man of incredible depth and interest, as long as he didn’t leave his bag behind. (I think at last count it was 4 times you forgot it, Bruce?)

Peter and David were the true larrikins of the group. They were not as grumpy as we had wrongly assumed at the start, and David has a hidden talent for British accents and jokes.

Bill let me bother him for 2 weeks with my constant pestering about his job, and didn’t get (noticeably) annoyed with me once. He has taught me about all the highs and lows of politics like, hey, leading a Victorian Government tour to Europe but a pretentious kid is going to question you for 14 days straight. Thanks Bill.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Paris! - by Breanna

After an early start this morning, we left the Mercure at 8 sharp, after we recovered a missing Laura and Claire – who we thought were still in bed. We then numbered off in French, and were on our way to Paris. Soon David, Bill and Bruce took up the microphone and thanked everyone for the trip. Bianca also spoke on behalf of us Soapies and thanked everyone for their efforts on the trip, expressed our privilege of being a part of this tour, and spoke about how thankful we are to have learnt so much throughout the journey. Hearing the speeches reminded us all that today was essentially our last day on the tour, and the trip had come to an end all too soon.

As we arrived in Paris, through the mist we could see the faint outline of the Eiffel tower. We drove around the Arc de Triomphe a few times so we could get some good photos of the magnificent site, and then made our way to the Eiffel Tower. Jackie got our tickets, while we had some free time to grab a few snaps of the beautiful structure. We then lined up for the lift. We had an hour to spend up the tower, however most of this was spent waiting for lifts. When we finally got to the top it was stunning. You could see the whole city, hence why this was an amazing photo opportunity. We spent a few minutes at the top before we were ushered down so as to make it to lunch on time.

After gathering at our meeting point, we discovered Bill was not with us, so a search party was sent for a recovery mission. We located him shortly after, and made our way back to the bus. Soon we were sat down at a cute Parisian café for lunch, followed by a gorgeous cruise. While on the boat, we had the opportunity to sit on top of the deck as we made a circuit past Notre Dame and other landmarks.

Seeking some retail therapy, we then took the bus to the shopping centre underneath the Louvre, where many of us bought berets and souvenirs. Overall, everyone was disappointed with the quality of shops at this location. Jumping on the bus again, we arrived at our hotel where Amanda presented us with the gifts that were to be given to Tric and Bruce, and we signed a card for each of them. It was important to thank their efforts as the trip would not have taken place without either of them, and we feel so privileged to have had them present on the trip. Tric continuously keeps us in line and on time, while Bruce’s knowledge and enthusiasm regarding the subject is greatly appreciated and has made the trip incredibly enjoyable. So a massive shout out to Tric and Bruce, who with great efforts have made this trip fantastic.

While we were down in the lobby, we also found that we had the opportunity to shop in the centre just around the corner. Judging from the view we received as we drove past, the shops were of great quality, so all of us were pretty excited when we found we would be going there. We had a quick shop there, before going to Maccas for dinner, which was also an exciting prospect for us all. After dinner we squeezed in another quick shop, (where it’s safe to say most of us girls went crazy!) before returning to the hotel to prepare for our early start in the morning.

Goodnight from Paris, Brea.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Pozieres, Villers Bretonneux, Le Hamel and more - by Travis

Our excellent teacher chaperones at Thiepval

Today we were awoken at 7:30 by that reoccurring nonsense... the hotel phone.

We started the day off by hopping on the bus at 9 am sharp (besides Bruce). When he did 'end up on the bus' he asked us all to read a few sentences or a paragraph each at Adelaide Cemetery of the Eulogy for the Unknown Soldier written by Don Watson for P.J Keating (the Prime Minister of Australia at the time)  as it was read at the Australian War Memorial,  Canberra, on 11 November 1993. At Adelaide Cemetery, Bruce explained how the unknown soldier was exhumed and moved but the headstone remained and how many men became unknown soldiers due to the mortality of war.      

In lieu of Otis's
Adopt-a-Digger photo
(apologies - technical problem to be
resolved tomorrow)
We soon headed (not too far down the road) to Ville-Bretonneux Memorial where Otis was to commemorate his, not one, not two but three diggers (all brothers). Ralph Noden was killed in action. Wesley Noden vanished not too soon after in training. One of those family tragedies in war time. We then made our way to the Ville-Bretonneux Primary School which in fact was funded by us good ol' Victorians. There also was a small museum where there was plenty of information about the Great War to feed our needy eyes, along with some souvenirs to buy!

Bruce then took us to the Australian Corps Memorial Park (Le Hamel) where he interpreted John Monash's view on war (via John Monash's letter) as him having hate towards war, along with the horror and destruction. Bruce being Bruce of course uses the opportunity to advertise how good Monash University is as he has done through out the whole trip by handing out a John Monash bookmark to everyone.

Stephanie commemorates her family's digger
As our bellys' start to rumble so does the bus' engine as we soon find ourselves eating baguettes and drinking a can of soft drink at 'The Better 'Ole Le Tommy Restaurant & Museum 1916' in Pozieres. After our bellys were full we  make a short stop at Pozieres British Cemetery for a small look. We now drive  parallel to Sausage Valley and go to a small cemetery known as Gordons Dump (named after an Irish man) where Steph emotionally commemorated her great great uncle James Scouler Coles.

After a emotional commemoration we are found hearing a few accounts (from diggers) about shellings and the mutilation on the battlefront from Sam, Otis and Carl at the Windmill Site of Pozieres. We soon crossed the road to a place that was close to where the first tanks were used in war which has gone into action on the 15th September 1916.   

Thiepval reading by David

Readings at the Windmill site, Pozieres
The Thiepval Memorial to the missing of the Somme and Anglo-French Cemetery was next, where (by name) 72, 000 soldiers who fell in the Somme sector up to the 20th March 1918 and who had no known grave were listed respectively. It is the largest Commonwealth memorial and it was definitely one of the best sites to see! David also read a deeply moving passage, under the large monument, from Sebastian Faulks' book 'Birdsong'.

There was also a small museum and souvenir shop (much to Amandas' excitement) where most of us bought items to remember the memorial! We make our second last stop of the day at the NewFoundland War Memorial Park where we had a small stop for some proffessional photographs.  

At the Newfoundland memorial at Beaumont-Hamel

And last but not least, we make our final stop at the biggest cemetery on the Somme, Serre Road Cemetery No.2 where Patricia commemorated her uncle,  Private Tom Pollard with pride by singing, 'In Flanders Fields', in which I know hit a soft spot in all of our hearts.

We then drove back to Mecure Hotel for dinner and for our last night in Amiens as we get ready to head to Paris!


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

From Ypres to Amiens - by Stephanie

Today we were woken at 7 for a jam-packed day as we travelled from Ypres in Belgium to Amiens in France.

Charlotte at the grave of her
great, great Grandfather
First we travelled to Bonjean Military Cemetery in Armentieres, where Charlotte led us in a beautiful commemoration of her Great Grandfather, John Baillie. We then were given some time to walk around the Cemetery and read the epitaphs of many troops.
Once back on the bus Breanna, Travis and I gave an image analysis about what the soldiers did to escape the horrors of war.

"Don't forget me cobber" - Fromelles

We then headed to Fromelles, to Victoria Cross Corner where we were given a brief history lesson from Bruce about the significance of the site. We then headed 200 meters down the road to Cobbers statue - a sculpture of an Australian Soldier bringing a wounded comrade back to the trenches from no-man’s land.  After Breanna and Bianca kindly re-enacted the pose of the statue for us, we travelled to Fromelles Cemetery where 250 Allied soldiers are buried from Pheasants Wood. We were then informed that lunch wouldn’t be for another 2 hours, so we stopped at a local bar for some hot chocolate before our next stop in Lille.
The girls marking Breanna's Commemoration of an Australian nurse buried in Lille, Sr. Moorhouse
Upon arriving we made our way to the Lille Southern Cemetery where Breanna would commemorate her digger, Sister Edith Moorhouse. The commemoration was very touching as we have only commemorated one other woman from the First World War on this trip.

We then stopped at a restaurant called “Flunch” for lunch and got back on the road again and heading further into France. We stopped at the Canadian War Memorial at Vimy Ridge and were very moved at the amazing beauty and height of the structure.
In the trenches at Vimy

After a quick stop at the trenches in Vimy Ridge where so many Canadians lost their lives we were headed to Bullecourt Memorial Park. Bruce gave us a quick summary of the events that occurred at Bullecourt as well as describing the method of trench warfare used in this part of the front line.
Travis and Carl at Vimy

From here, we travelled a little further on the bus, finally arriving at the hotel in Amiens, ending a tiring, eventful but wonderful day.

Until tomorrow, au revoir!

Dwarfed by the grandeur of the famous Amiens Cathedral

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

In Flanders Field - by Sanduni

Steph at Polygon Wood

 It’s our last day to enjoy Belgium and explore the depth of World War 1 history it offers. Professor Bruce promised us that there wouldn't be any mud this time and he kept his promise. We started our exploration today from the well-known Menin Road and headed towards Polygon Woods, where the Australian 5th Division memorial was located.  The 5th Australian Division was charged with clearing the Polygon Woods as part of the allied advance up to Gheluvelt Plateau. This battle was the Australian 5th Division's most decisive victory on the Western Front and therefore Polygon Woods was selected as the location for the Divisional memorial. It is a truly a peaceful and a beautiful place for the Australian diggers to rest. Bruce guided us to a pillbox used by the German soldiers next to the memorial and went on to elaborate the important role it played.

Travis at Ypres Reservoir Cemetery
Then we headed off to Tyne Cot the largest Commonwealth cemetery built. The scale of the cemetery was unbelievable and it seemed to go on forever with 12 thousand soldiers resting there in peace. The sheer magnitude of it was inexplicable. Soon after we visited the Ypres Reservoir Cemetery where Travis commemorated Corporal Fredrick Jones, who served in the same regiment as his great uncle and his great grandfather.

Later we headed back to the Flanders Field Museum for lunch with the highlight being dessert. As we gazed our eyes across the disturbed landscape of Hill 60, it felt like it uttered the importance of remembering those lost in the war in the simplest way possible through its mesmerizing landscape. Hill 60 radiated this inexplicable, powerful tale to its visitors. It was hard to imagine that it was once a home to 60 mines.

Essex Farm was next on our schedule and we went on a wild goose chase trying to find John McCrae’s grave. However, the highlight was when Charlotte, Stephanie and Bianca recited the Flanders’s field poem, which touched us very deeply. Then we made a quick visit to the casualty clearance station located near Essex Farm and the St Julian memorial.

Wandering around the graves at Tyne Cot

Pillbox at Hill 60

For the very first time in this journey we visited a very different kind of cemetery to what we were used to seeing. It was a German mass grave known as Langemark. Twenty four thousand men were buried in one grave. It didn’t showcase any individuality and illuminated a bleak perspective on the cemetery, narrating the story through the Germans soldiers.

Steph and Otis
The next place we visited a bought a tear to our eyes. We were warned beforehand about the impact it can have on us, however like brave souls we marched on to a place called Poperinghe. During World War 1, 346 executions were carried out in the British Army and Poperinghe was the home to four of the brutal executions. Walking through the crammed cell where prisoners about to be executed were held, we felt an eerie and haunting presence. It was almost too life like. It reminded us of the brutality of our history.