July - October 2016
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  • Day12


    July 24, 2016 in France ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    I guess when I first booked this tour over a year ago I knew that I would be seeing the battlefields of some famous places that I had read about or been told about at school, (which was usually only a few days prior ANZAC Day and covered mainly Gallipoli)
    What I didn't expect was to learn so much more:
    - the individual battles within each offensive and how individual acts of courage can change the course of the battle
    - the conditions in which our soldiers had to endure and still continued on
    - the emotional connection you develop with each story about bravery, each memorial and cemetery you visit
    - And mostly the reality it brings with each and every family pilgrimage. Thank you to everyone who has allowed me to be part of your personal stories.
    It is all part of the memories I will take away with me and cherish forever❤️

    ❤️They shalt not grow old
    As we who are left grow old
    Age shall not weary them
    Nor the years condenm
    At the going down of the sun and in the morning
    We will remember them❤️

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  • Day12

    Day Twelve

    July 24, 2016 in France ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    Our final day on the Somme battlefields before we head back to Paris this afternoon.
    Firstly we drove through the village of Contalmaison this was the area where Australian divisions congregated prior to the assault on Pozieres village.

    On the 14th July 1916, Australians arrive in Pozieres. This area is significant as it is the highest land in the area and the Allies want to occupy it at any cost. To begin with Germans held the village of Pozieres. The Australians 1st and 2nd Divisions take on the assault for Pozieres. The fighting was an intense artillery barriage. As the casualties mount, four Victoria Crosses are awarded to Australian soldiers in a matter of days.
    First division lose over 5000 men, the suvivors are shattered and battleworn, but the town is taken by the Australians. In the following days the 2nd Division take over and capture the Windmall and Mouquet Farm. These are significant as they allow the Australians and the British to mount a full assault on Thiepval, the highest point on the Somme valley. From here they can control the entire area.
    Standing on the mound where the windmill once stood you can see across the paddocks and clearly see the route these soldiers took from Pozieres to Mouquet Farm and then Theipval. With the naked eye it looks like only 10-20km between each. Quite an amazing sight.
    Arrived back in Paris at our hotel to scrub up and look forward to our dinner cruise on the River Seine tonight.
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  • Day12

    Day Eleven

    July 24, 2016 in France ⋅ 🌙 14 °C

    Today we went to Pozieres for the centenery. Prior to this we went to Beaumont Hamel, the New Foundland Memorial. Here we could see real evidence of shelling. This area during the war was mainly Canadian & New Foundland soldiers and here they sustained a huge loss of life. Amongst the brave soldiers was the one and only recorded Inuit (Eskimo) soldier. The monument is impressive, this large caribou on top of a mountain with the honour roll underneath.

    The Australian Department of Veteran Affairs, once again planned and organised a wonderful ceremony. The tributes to the fallen at Pozieres were interesting and moving. It was great to see the youth of our nation read tributes to the soldiers. The big screen pieces outlining the battle in detail were very informative and brought the battle to life. Both Fromelles and Pozieres ceremonies really honoured the brave soldiers that lost their lives so we could live the life we have today.

    For dinner we visited the town of Amiens. This is a quaint town right on the banks of the Somme River. There are rows and rows of restaurants and cafes that line the river bank. An extremely popular place at night. We found a little restuarant called 'L'Envie'. Where we had a three course meal - Entree was a traditional french pancake with cheese, mushroom and ham rolled inside and baked. Main Course was a rib eye steak and chips (after seeing so many potato fields across northern France it was good to taste it. I guess that's why they are called french fries!😝 Finally dessert, this was Fondant au chocolat, which was like a chocolate lava cake with fresh fruit and caramel icecream. It was quite spectacular!
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  • Day11

    Day Ten

    July 23, 2016 in France ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    This morning we headed towards Villers Bretonneux. We visited the Victoria School and had photos taken under the famous 'Don't Forget Australia' sign in the playground of the school. We also wandered through the museum dedicated to the Aussies who fought to save the town. We followed this with our visit to the Villers Bretonneux Military Cemetery. This is a magnificent structure. The size of the cemetery is hard to describe. As you walk in past the alter bearing the inscription 'Their name liveth for evermore' it is a confronting sight to see rows and rows of headstones for a far as you can see up the hill. As you go up the hill in the distance is the bell tower and the wall carrying all the names of the missing. It is quite impressive. We had several pilgrimages to honour reletives of people on the tour. One of the fallen soldiers in the cemetery was honoured by five generations of family, this was quite special to witness.

    After lunch at Tommy's in Pozieres, a pub quite well known by Aussie diggers in 1916, we went to the Le Hamel Memorial. This was to honour the Aussies in the battle for the town of Le Hamel. The memorial is situated on the trenches that the Germans held until July 4th 1918. This battle was the making of Sir John Monash as Commander of the Australian Corps. His meticulous planning resulted in a famous victory.

    Other places we visited were:
    - Lochnagar Crater Memorial
    - 3rd Australian Division Memorial
    - Mouquet Farm, a German held area that the Aussies attack and after five weeks of fighting capture the farm from the Germans. The Aussies refer to it as 'Moo Cow Farm'.

    Our final stop for today was at the Thiepval Memorial and French-Anglo Cemetery. After seeing the massive memorial at Vimy Ridge yesterday I didn't think they could get any bigger but I was wrong, so wrong! The structure that is Thiepval is a sight to be hold. It is a giant in all aspects of the word. It looks like a giant wedding cake! This is a memorial for all men who fought the various battles along The Somme. In all 72,000 men died on The Somme and have no known grave. This is their memorial. These names are inscribed along the walls of the monument along with each battle that made up the fighting along The Somme. Numerous times today we crossed over the river Somme, where bloodiest of battles gets its name.
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  • Day10

    Day Nine

    July 22, 2016 in France ⋅ ☁️ 15 °C

    Today we said good bye to Ypres and the battlefields of the Ypres Salient and we have made our way south, back into France and to the area they call 'The Somme'. We returned to Fromelles for a closer look at Pheasant Wood Cemetery and Australia Memorial Park or VC Corner. Our historian, Mike, took us out into a paddock of wheat to fully explain the botched battle that was Fromelles. From our vantage point we could clearly see the Auber Ridge and the Sugarloaf (a bulge in the German front line). The first wave of Australian forces have 200m of no-man's land to cover to try and take the German trenches. The British on their flank have 400m of no-man's land to cover. But the British decide not to go as they dont think they can make a success of it, but fail to fully conmunicate this to the Aussies. Not enough Aussie soldiers from this first wave make it to fully take over the German trenches, so by the time the second and third waves come they are mowed down by German machine gun fire. The same thing happens again the next day as the British pull out due to dwindling numbers. The 58th Batallion loses 400 Victorian soldiers. This campaign was doomed from the start and results in over 5500 casualties and 1299 killed in a 24 hour period.

    We spent some time at VC Corner - Australian Memorial Park. This is where the famous 'Cobber' sculpture is. To make it even more spectacular the grass areas surrounding the statue were covered in handmade knitted poppies. This was a display created for last year's Gallipoli Centenery and displayed in Federation Square. From here they were taken to the Chelsea Flower Show and then thanks to an anoyomous donation the display was brought to the Western Front for the Fromelles Centenery. It was amazing and gave the area that special spark.

    We then went for a more intimate look at Pheasant Wood Cemetery in Fromelles, the site for Tuesday's Centenery service. This is the newest cemetery on the Western Front. It was created in 2009 after a mass grave of Australian soldiers was found in a farmer's paddock adjacent to the Fromelles village. Each soldier was laid to rest in the cemetery with a heastone 'Unknown soldier of the Great War' in 2010. After each soldier is identified by DNA their headstone is replaced with a new one depicting their name, rank, date of death, rising sun and a message from their family. A beautiful memorial.
    After lunch we visted 'Vimy Ridge' the Canadian memorial to the fallen. It is massive, it is hard to describe its size or depict it properly in photos. This memorial represents the 66,000 Canadian troops killed on the Western Front and has the names of all the soldiers missing that do not have a known grave. The monument stands tall with two pillars side by side, this represents the two countries, France & Canada. The space between the pillars represents the ocean between these countries. The figure on top represents 'peace' and the shared values of faith, hope, courage and knowledge. The lone statue in front, which looks like the Virgin Mary is Mother Canada, looking out over the tomb and keeping a careful and loving watch over the fallen soldiers.

    Finally we visited Bullecourt and had a beer in the 'Le Canberra' pub, just like the Diggers in 1917. We will learn more of the Battle of Bullecourt in the coming days.
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  • Day9

    Day Eight

    July 21, 2016 in Belgium ⋅ 🌙 16 °C

    This morning I got to visit the beautiful town of Brugge in Belgium. This town has a medievil feel with cobblestone streets, canals and ancient buildings. Some of these buildings were built as far back as the 13th century. Brugge was lucky enough to have no damage during the WW1, this was due to the Germans taking over the town early in their invasion of Belgium and the front line was established closer to Ypres.

    Our next stop was the New Zealand Memorial on Messine Ridge. There is one main difference between an Australian cemetery and a New Zealand memorial. Australia repatriated their war dead and created war cemeteries under the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC). New Zealand soldiers buried their fallen where they were killed. So they built memorials and placed the names of these soldiers on the memorial.

    Not far from the New Zealand memorial, only a short walk though a paddock with Belgium Blue cattle we found our way to the Irish Peace Park. The memorial to the Irish soldiers that were lost on Messine Ridge was a large bluestone pillar tower. Each county of Ireland that sent men to the Western Front is named here. Along one side of the park are some bluestone tiles that have the thoughts of irish soldiers from their personal diaries. These are written as poems and they are very honest and depict a gloomy state that they found themselves in.

    Lastly today we visited Tine Cot Cemetery. This is the largest cemetery on the Ypres Salient. It has 12,500 headstones for the fallen from Britain, Australia, Canada and even some from Germany. New Zealand has a memorial wall here also. Most of the grave stones here are for Unknown soldiers. As you enter the cemetery you can't help notice the enormous wall. On this wall are the names of dead soldiers that they could not fit onto the Menin Gate. The enormity of this place really puts this war in perspective. The place is beautiful but disturbing at the same time. You are instantly overwhelmed with how many men were killed in just this part of the war. This is the first time on this trip that my heart and soul has been touched by what I've seen and the stories I've heard.
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  • Day7

    Day Seven

    July 19, 2016 in Belgium ⋅ 🌙 25 °C

    Today I attended the Centenary service at Fromelles. This service was to commemorate the 100 years since the battle of Fromelles in 1916. On the 1st July 1916, the Germans began bringing in reinforcements from other fronts. Battalions from Lille we reported to be rallying for a push on The Somme. So the British devised a plan to attack them at Fromelles, in the hope that would persuade the Germans to keep there men there. This plan involved the 5th Australian Division and the 61st British Division. Both these Divisions were inexperienced as they had spent less than a month on The Somme. By the next morning over 2000 soldiers were dead. The attack was hastily planned and poorly executed, as the Germans were already well entrenched. But the attack went ahead anyway.
    Today I witnessed the unveiling of six more brave young souls being recognised and finally identified for their efforts. They now rest in a beautiful part of the world and their descendants now have a place to come and remember them. Until today they were known unto God.
    On our way back to Ypres today we visited Essex Farm Cemetery. This area was an Advanced Dressing Station during this war. It was located only 3km from the front and received the wounded and assessed their injuries. It was here that an American John McCrae penned the famous poem 'In Flanders Field'. McCrae was a Brigade Surgeon with the First Canadian Field Artillery. He was at the dressing station at Essex Farm on 3rd May 1915.
    💡Things I learnt today.....
    1. The Australian Veterans Affairs really know who to commemorate our fallen. Wonderful ceremony.
    2. It is bloody hot over here!☀️
    3. It is days like this that you are proud to be an Aussie!🇦🇺
    4. You can quite easily skull 7 bottles of water in a few hours!
    5. Portable toilets at large events in France are very bizzare. Outside urinals for women? Are the French for real!🚽
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  • Day7

    Day Six

    July 19, 2016 in Belgium ⋅ 🌙 16 °C

    Today we started with a visit to Passchendaele. This town was involved in one of the battles for the Ypres Salient in 1917. This offensive involved British, Australian, New Zealand and Canadian troops. We went through the war museum which was very impressive. They had a great display of relics and you could actually walk through recreated trenches. I couldn't get over how narrow and small the trenches were, even in some underground trenches I had to crouch down to get through!
    After that we visited Hooge Crater Cemetery. Here we were told the story of Patrick Bugden. He recieved the VC for his continued heroic efforts during the battle of Polygon Wood in 1917. He used machine gun fire and grenade launches to clear the way for his fellow soldiers. In doing so he saved wounded soldiers and continued going back in until he was killed in action.
    Following this we walked through Polygon Wood. This area was one of the main offensives where the Australian 5th Division pushed back the Germans from Menin Road. Although this is a heavily wooded area now, it was totally cleared by heavy artillery in 1917. On the other side of the wood is a beautiful cemetery.
    In the afternoon we walked the craters and what is left of the tunnels at Hill 60. I was amazed at how small an area this is. In one spot the distance between the Allied front and the German front was only 25 steps! I walked it twice to measure it as i found it ridiculous that they were so close!
    Finally today we visited Langemark German Cemetery. It was really good to hear about the German side of the war. The cemetery itself has a dark and bleak outlook to it compared to the Allied cemeteries, which are bright and look like a cottage garden. The entrance has two small rooms attached where all the names of the German Student Reserve are listed. These students were recruited as German troops were being killed at an alarming rate. The problem was that these poor boys were not fully prepared for what awaited them. They were easily and quickly disposed of by the Allies. We were told that the room we stood in today was the exact same spot where Aldof Hitler laid a wreath in the 1940's. It was quite a freaky feeling to know that I had stood in the same place as him!
    💡Things I learnt today.....
    1. Aldof Hitler was a soldier in the German Army during the battles of the Ypres Salient and that the Allied soldiers had numerous chances to kill him, although he didn't have the same reputation then. Imagine how different history would have been🤔
    2. Although the summer temperature here is mid to high 20's, the humidity is a bitch!😥
    3. It is amazing how much laundry you can do in a bathroom sink. 👕👖👗
    4. Belgium has their own version of a 'Cruiser' drink called 'Finley'🍸
    5. How determined a German pilot named Werner Voss was.
    During 1917 when the Red Baron Manfred Von Richthofen was doing his thing, when he amassed 50 kills he was awarded the Knights Cross (German version of the VC). Voss decided that he too wanted the Knights Cross and set his goal to get 50 kills before he went on RnR. On his last day before leave he had 48 kills in the bank, but he was determined to get his last two. So he took to the skies again and came across five British planes. A heavy dog fight ensued, with Voss fully in control as his plane manouvoured more easily than the British planes. Voss finally defeated all five planes, but while he was preoccupied with these five planes he failed to notice the other ninety planes which were heading his way. He was shot down and killed. Maybe he should have called it a day?
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  • Day6

    Day Five

    July 18, 2016 in Belgium ⋅ ☀️ 16 °C

    We started today with a walking tour of our home town for the next few nights, Ypres. We learnt about the thousands and thousands of names listed on the Menin Gate. These are the names of the fallen soldiers who do not have a final resting place from the three battles that were conducted on the Ypres Salient. The Salient was a 'bulge' in the front line from 1914-1918. During this time the Germans held all the high ground and the British, Australian and Canadian forces were fighting to push them back off this high ground. This Salient's topography was more like a 'soup bowl', with the allied troops along the bottom of the bowl and the Germans sitting along the ridge/edge of the bowl. No wonder so many soldiers were killed, they didn't have a chance. But although it looked hopeless there were many heroic feats to push back the German front.
    Next we visited Rampart Cemetery in the town of Ypres. Here lies fallen gunners mainly from allied forces, there are only five Aussies buried here. It is a beautiful resting place as all the headstones have a beautiful view of the lake and its surroundings.
    This afternoon we visited the Flanders Field Museum. This contains many relics, photos and interactive video of the three battles fought here from 1914-1918. On entry to the museum you receive a rubber wristband with a raised poppy on one side. The poppy contains a microchip, so as you walk around the museum you touch the poppy against the wifi logos and it will bring the interactive sections to life. Very cool and engaging!
    Tonight we attended the Last Post Ceremony at Menin Gate. The local fire brigade conduct the Last Post and wreath laying ceremony EVERY night at 8pm. This is the town's way of paying their respect to those that lost their lives fighting to help save Belgium. This ceremony had been happening every night since WW1, the only time it didn't go ahead was during WW2.
    💡Things I learnt today.....
    1. I am quite humbled to be amongst current veterans who have served in our armed services. Their willingness to share their stories both positive and negative is amazing.❤️
    2. The coffee over here is NOT like home! 😩
    3. You need REALLY good shoes!👞👟 My feet are taking a pounding, walking is fine but the standing around listening to the great knowledge of our historian, Mike, is very draining on your feet!
    4. The Belgians really know how to make a great bagette sandwich! There is no limit to what you can have in it!🍴
    5. The ANZAC spirit is very much alive and kicking. The number of people over here at the moment is unbelievable! 💞
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