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Sunday, 28 April 2013

Goodbye

Got sad seeing the superb sunset outside the plane window. The day is drawing to a close and so is my trip.

It's been such an amazing experience and I just can't believe it's over. I feel so grateful to have been selected and would like to say thank you to the brilliant group that I travelled with for making it so memorable and special. I will treasure these memories for the rest of my life. Thank you.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Perfect Paris

Paris.

Wow.

It's such a beautiful city, full of brilliant buskers, stunning architecture, pleasant patisseries, blooming spring flowers and glistening waters. What a better way to finish of a life changing trip - than some exploration of this fine city!



Eiffel Tower

The river Saine
View of Paris from the Arc de Triomphe
My beret

Notre Dame

We only just got here but I'm already packing my bags again.  So now it's goodbye Paris, goodbye France, goodbye Europe.  But not forever.  Because I'm definitely coming back again soon!

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Anzac Day

The big day is finally here - the 25th of April - the 98th anniversary for the landing of Aussie and Kiwi at Gallipoli.  We got up at 2:18am!!! And proceeded downstairs to have breakfast (more of a midnight snack).  I least I think we did because I was to tired and delirious to remember.

It was very dark, cold and misty when we arrived at the Australian National War Memorial for the dawn service.  And to think this is only their spring.  I can't even begin to imagine the hardships the Australian men and women went through here in winter all those years ago!  The sun rose over the memorial as we watched the ceremony from only the 6th row back.  As there were about 6000 people here - row 6 wasn't bad!

It was a very moving service.  My eyes got a bit watery at times - especially at the reading by an Australian War Widow.  The letter of a worried mother searching for her "missing" son's whereabouts.  Her son who had died nearly 6 months ago.

Here the band plays Waltzing Matilda.

video



They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.


It was also goodbye to Vestie (Slyvestre) and Estelle - our wonderful tour guides.  We saw them off with a poem each, Anzac biscuits and a promise to visit again soon!


Ode to Estelle


Chere Estelle
You are a cutie,
And a downright Australian “beauty”.
Your giggle is contagious,
And your humour outrageous!
Your driving skills are better,
Than those of Slyvestre. (hin hin hin)
We all think you’re a star,
And we will miss you from afar.
So until we meet again…
It’s see ya later…
From your mates in Austraya!


Ode to Slyvestre


Cher Vestie,
Merci pour being our bestie (bestfriend).
Kind-hearted, enthusiastic and knowledgeable,
You make learning about history more than tolerable.
Your love of your “patrie”,
Is clear for all to see!
You have enriched my life greatly,
With everything you have taught me.
But there is some knowledge I lack,
I still don’t know what that flag is…
The one with the big Union Jack??



Hope to see you in Australia soon!

Dernancourt

Yesterday we attended a service at Dernancourt.

This little town has a strong South Australian connection as South Aussie troops fought off a German offensive here on the 5th of April 1918.

The children were out for the service and we all walked down the little main street together.  The Mayor gave a really sweet speech and told us that we "can be proud to be Australian".  It was very touching to know the extent these locals go to to remember Australia and the brave sacrifices our men made.

After the service we presented the Mayor and the Children with gifts.  Among which were 2 Aussie Rules footballs.  A match was than played on the oval.  It was great fun! I even managed a broken French/English conversation with the kids!



I now have 3 French pen pals who live on Australia Road!

We were also presented with real French flags, poppy (or coquelicot in French!), badges and books.  I felt so humbled by these beautiful gifts and I will cherish them forever.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Exploring Amiens

This afternoon was completely dedicated to shopping and exploring the town!

Harry Potter et Where's Wally (Charlie) en Français, macaroons, chocolat et crêpes!!

Plus a visit to the absolutely ginormous cathedral. Apparently it's even bigger than Notre Dame!!









Villers-Bretonneux

Villers-Bretonneux is busy getting ready for Anzac Day commemorations.

Signs for the Footy were all up - ready for tomorrow. Green and Gold flags flutter in the breeze in the town square and the French and Australian flags fly side by side.

Anzac Day has a special significance here. Not only is it the anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign but it marks the day in 1918 when Australian troops recaptured the town from German occupation. This was very important in the course of the war as Villers-Bretonneux was the last town before Amiens. Had the Germans captured Amiens (a town with essential railway connections) they would have been able to effectively cut all communications between London and Paris.

The symbol for Villers-Bretonneux is very cute - a kangaroo made from the letters VB (initials of the town... not the beer!).

There is a strong connection here with Australia - in particular Melbourne. In 1927 Victorian school children helped raised money to establish a school - Victoria school. In big, bright green and gold letters the words "Do Not Forget Australia" are displayed proudly in the school courtyard.

We then went to the Australian National Memorial just out of town - where we will be attending the dawn service tomorrow. It's very impressive and big.







Scaling the mini Eiffel Tower

After a rather large dinner and dessert last night of Savoury Crepes and Creme Brûlée a morning stroll was in order.

Little did I know it would include me scaling the a mini Eiffel Tower!!

Monday, 22 April 2013

100 year old gun powder... that still works

This was discovered when Ashwini tipped out the contents of a bullet casing.

We then proceeded to burn it in the car park.



A Jewish German

We visited a German cemetery today. The headstones are all black crosses - quite depressing really. All but a few. The graves of the German Jews.

Leslie Varley Duxbury

Today I finally visited Leslie Varley Duxbury. Who rests at Heath Cemetery, Harbonieres.

The sun was shining bright, birds were tweeting, flowers were blowing gently in the wind.

As soon as I found his grave I felt unexpectedly emotional. After everything -all this research, interviews and over 24 hours travelling... I was here. With him. It felt really special. My presentation went well, it think. We ended up singing the song he sang - Come on, Australians. It was a really nice moment. That song had probably not been sung for nearly 100 years.

However we were also right by the road. So the trucks provided a frequent and rather annoying reminder that life still goes on. A copy of my speech is coming.





My speech


I cannot comprehend the scale of the war, or what you went through.  Nor do I think I ever will.  But what I do understand is enough.  Enough to make me care.  Enough to make me know – there are things we can’t ignore.  Things that must be remembered, understood and respected.  And things that must never be repeated.  Mistakes to be learnt from.  But also courage to be admired.
Today we remember this all.

And in this remembering, we honour one of many.

You were but one of the 65 million young men to fight in the First World War.  One of over 400 000 brave Australians to serve, and one of nearly 60 000 Australians who didn't make it home.   

Today we remember you, 2nd Lieutenant Leslie Varley Duxbury – as you rest here in cold, hard, foreign soil.  But rest easy, friend, for you will stay forever in our hearts.

***

You were very young, at your age you could easily have been my older brother.  Like me you loved your sport, your music, your family and your country.

You laid down your life to protect your country, my country, our country.  For your ultimate sacrifice we give you our upmost respect and thanks.

It is your self-sacrifice that gives us freedom and opportunity today.  My life in Australia is filled with many fantastic opportunities.  Opportunities like this prize.  Opportunities to play sport or music – two pastimes that Leslie and I both share. 

That’s one reason for why I have decided to bring this football here today.  Let this be a reminder of your love of sport – something which I think is embedded in the Anzac spirit, and football in particular.  Let it also be a symbol of your sacrifice that allows me to love this great game and play football (both Aussie Rules, and soccer).  

I am also leaving the sheet music of the patriotic song “Come on Australians” that you sang with ‘great success’.  I will now play a recording of this song and ask you to join me in singing if you wish.
Your parents never got a chance to visit your grave as I’m sure they would have dearly loved to.  So I’m placing their photo here, so they can finally visit their son’s final resting place.

***

His life:

Leslie Varley Duxbury was born in Wayville, South Australia.  Which, for those of you that don’t know, is just south of the city, near the Adelaide Showgrounds.

He went to school in Semaphore and later became a Sales Manager.  It was clear that he had a talent and a passion for both sport and singing.  He played football, baseball, rowed and he sang.  
When war broke out overseas, the young 23 year old was actively giving his time - singing at free patriotic concerts. 

His maternal uncle was one of the first to sign up – in the May of 1915.  Tragically, he was also among the 8 000 plus brave Anzacs to perish on the shores of Gallipoli. 

I think that it was this news of his uncle’s death that fully motivated Leslie to join the cause – and that September he enlisted his own services with the AIF.

He left Australia the following April in 1916 as part of the 32nd Battalion.  He trained in Egypt for a short while before arriving in France a couple of months later.  There he fought in the Battle of Fromelles – a bloody battle that saw over 5 ½ thousand Aussie casualties in 24 hours the worst day in our wartime history

In the October of 1917, Leslie was sent over to England to an Officers’ Training College – where he was anticipated to “… make a splendid officer.”

In the May of 1918 he was back in France; now as a 2nd Lieutenant of his Battalion.  He was also appointed as the sports officer to the battalion, something in which he took great pride. 

A few months later the 32nd battalion was involved in the fight to reclaim Mont St. Quentin and Péronne.  It was a fierce battle that saw the Germans speedily retreat. 

Despite the military success of the action, it came at a cost. Australia suffered the loss of a fine young officer. For on the 3rd of September 1918, in the fields of France, Leslie Duxbury was hit in the thigh by a stray high explosive while taking some well-earned rest.  He was transferred, unconscious, to the 5th Clearing Casualty Hospital, where he subsequently died 3 days later.

Back home in South Australia this news must have greatly grieved his poor mother.  Already having lost her brother; the war had now claimed a second victim; her only son. 

**

I am currently reading Somme Mud, you may have heard of it.  It’s the story of 18 year old Private Edward Lynch as he served on the Western Front in World War 1. 

I would just like to share with you an extract that really hit home for me.  It really made me think of Lucy Kate, Leslie’s mother.  It serves as a reminder that wars are not just fought on the battlefields.

Lynch and his mates have just carried out a daring capture of an enemy trench and Lynch is reporting the details to the colonel. 



‘The stunt is over,’ the colonel says, and tells him everything he’s just got out of me.  The old colonel seems happy.
Over is it? For some it’s over as mortal life goes, poor beggars.  Is it over for those who are writhing in the excruciating agony of shattered bones, of torn intestines, of punctured lungs, or shot-off limbs, of bruised and mangled flesh?  Is it over for those who will never again walk upright as men, but pass what’s left of their suffering lives as cripples – getting their country’s sympathy but little else?  Is it over for the women who wait and pray and are doomed to long, lonely years ahead with nothing but a memory to cherish and nothing but that memory to comfort them along the road they had so hoped to tread with their soldier boy?  Is it over for the kiddies who’ll face life handicapped in so many ways by the loss of their daddy?  Colonel, you are mistaken!  The stunt isn’t over.  It’s barely begun for those upon whom it falls the heaviest. 



Leslie had so much potential and so much to live for.  His courage, passion, good humour, integrity and all round zest for life encompassed the essence of the Anzac spirit.  War may have taken his life but it can never take away his spirit – the Anzac spirit, and the everlasting effect it has had and will continue to have on my life.

Until I researched Leslie Duxbury he was all but forgotten, the last of his line.  It seems so cruel for his life to be taken when victory was so near – when he had so much more to offer.  It is a small comfort, at least, to think that now he has not been forgotten.  And I feel honoured and privileged to be able to share his incredible story with you here today. 

Leslie, I would like you to know that your death was not in vain.  The muddy, bloody battlefields that you fought on almost a century ago must be an alien world compared to the quiet countryside we see today.   

There is peace here now. 

Thanks for your sacrifice, Leslie mate.

Rest in peace.   Thanks.



They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
                                  Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Trois Fromage

Three cheese toastie with apple juice at Arras! Ou en francais... Croque trois fromage avec du jus de pomme. First time we ordered in French too!!

Finally France!

Lots of very pretty, peaceful cemeteries and old battlefields today.

Daffodils at Fleurs Fields, Cobbers memorial at Fromelles, and the serene Le Trou Cemetry.

Just a bit of general knowledge. Fromelles was the site of first major Australian involvement on the Western Front. It's where my soldier Leslie Varley Duxbury most probably fought. Very peaceful but moving to remember the 5500 Australia men who were casualties here in only a matter of 24 hours.

Sunrise through Menin Gate this morning was also spectacular!!







Saturday, 20 April 2013

Last night in Ypres

Tonight is our last night in Ypres :(

We attended the Menin Gate service again - but this time we played an official part laying a wreath.

Traditional omelette for dinner and omg Belgium waffles for dessert!!!

Our night stroll was also so beautiful.





The majestic Menin Gate

The people here in Ypres have held a memorial service to the missing every night since 1928. It's walls bear the name of 50 000 soldiers who have no known grave.

Looking out the hotel window



The moat around Ypres



Bunker at Hill 60



5 Countries, 2 days!

5 countries, 2 days - not a bad effort. Australia, United Arab Emirates, Netherlands, Belgium and France!

We are due down in the foyer soon so I'll have to make it quick. A threat of no dessert was made if we were late again... So I'm not going to jeopardise my Belgium waffles!

Yesterday was amazing! Ploegsteert Wood was really tranquil and picturesque. It's hard to imagine that it was right on the front line almost 100 years ago.

There are war cemeteries by the side of the road just everywhere. And to think that they're just the commonwealth graves. One cemetery we visited had over 10 000 graves.

The scale of this war is just incomprehensible.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Ypres

I'm finally in Ypres after over a day of flying, driving and airport walking. It's a very cute town with old fashioned narrow cobblestone streets.

It's almost 9 in the morning and I can tell you what luxury it was sleeping horizontally for a change!

Today we're visiting world war 1 battlefield site around here with our tour guide Sylvestre - who seems very nice. We'll be visiting Messines Ridge, Ploegsteert Wood and we'll be crossing the border to France!!!

Everything still seems pretty surreal. I still can't believe I'm here in Belgium. The countryside is so pretty and everything is so green, unlike Australia.

What a fantastic view we have from our hotel room!!! The church bells were ringing earlier and I can hear birds twittering now. The croissants for breakfast were amazing. What a perfect way to start the day!



Tuesday, 5 February 2013

The Premier's Spirit of ANZAC School Prize

Last year I entered the Premier's ANZAC Spirit School Prize.  The task was to describe the journey of a South Australian man or woman who served on the Western Front during World War.  I choose to write an essay on Leslie Varley Duxbury (picture above) and I won a place on the trip.  So this April I will be traveling with 5 other students from South Australia to France and Belgium.