Premier's Anzac Memorial Scholarship 2016

Tour Report

Good morning/afternoon. Today I am here to present my time in France and Belgium on the Premieres ANZAC memorial scholarship. I won the scholarship by completing three essays, one for reasons why I wished to go; so family connections like my great great grandfather Harry Rhodes. The second was special considerations for the trip, my main focus was that my father had terminal bone cancer and may not last twelve months from the date I wrote my essay. Sadly he died the day before I went on the trip. The third essay was what I was going to do as a major work, that essay is about this presentation.

The trip allowed me to see a foreign country where a generation of men died for a country many of them had never visited. But the trip started before I even left Australia, it started in Sydney. The day before we left we were asked to attend a pre-trip briefing and ceremony in Hyde Park; followed by dinner in Hyde Park hotel restaurant.

[InlineGallery id="9" Style="Lightbox"]

We departed on the second day where we spent the next twenty four hours either flying or enjoying our stopover in Singapore.

We arrived in Paris’ Charles de Gaul airport at eight in the morning and it took what felt like hours to just get through customs and into the fresh air. After meeting with our tour guide we went for a forty minute drive to our hotel we left our bags and went to get some breakfast at a local café where I had a croissant, a glass of orange juice and a cup of tea; the best tea I have ever tasted. After which we had a sightseeing tour of Paris where we saw the Eiffel tower, the Arc de Triumph and the Louvre to name a few. We also visited the Australian embassy and met the ambassador and the governor of New South Wales. For dinner we dined in a Parisian restaurant.

Day three involved a visit to Le Invalids and the museum of the grand army which holds the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte in a hole in the floor in the Chapple. Next we went to Versailles where King Louis XIII spent most of his reign over France. The extravagance was immense, I understand why France rebelled in the time of Louis XIV. We end the day with dinner in another Parisian restaurant.

Day four started with a visit to Mt St Quentin where the beginning of the end for the Germans began. We then went to the Historial de la Grande guerre. This museum gave me the best insight of what the weapons could do and what weapons did what, it also showed the toys made to groom children to become soldiers. After this we went to the cloth hall and its museum, it showed the depression of the age very well. We than went to Ypres (Iper) and the Menin gate, where we attended a last post ceremony. We then retired for the night in our new hotel in Lille.

Day five started with a visit to Hill 60 and the caterpillar where the allies blew the tops of hills off, Hill 60 is secluded and covered in foliage whereas the caterpillar has less foliage. We also visited a pill box left with only minor damage, being far enough away from the creator of Hill 60. Next we visited Polygon Wood cemetery where soldiers were practising for a burial scheduled for the next day, we also took a stroll through the wood and saw a pill box hidden in the wood. We had lunch at a restaurant owned by the man who helped discover unknown war graves. Next we visited two very different cemeteries, Tyne Cott and Langemarck. Tyne Cott is a commonwealth war cemetery, the very largest of them all in fact and Langemarck a German cemetery where Hitler visited when he conquered France.
At Langemarck there are the names of all children who died in the First World War in the German ranks. After this we stopped at the Aeroplane cemetery to
find a grave for the very reverend Dr Keith Joseph Dean of Darwin (a family friend).

Day six we went to the Fromelles centenary on the hottest day in France for years, a top of thirty three degrees and we were in our formal uniform. The ceremony was very moving and I learned very much and felt emotionally connected to all the stories and diaries read by the decedents of soldiers who fought for the town a
century ago.

Day seven was the day on the front line. It started with a tour of the museum with a tour guide just starting out. She made very little mistakes and those who know me well will know that I … helped her with her facts, mainly about the ammunition. We then went on a tour of reconstructed trench lines, both British and German. Then we were called to the front line. We elected a lieutenant, everyone insisted that I be in command, most of my sergeants were all cadets unlike myself. While patrolling with my platoon we ran into enemy forces and they found out that their lieutenant had the best aim and throwing arm for grenades. We marched for hours, posed for photos and survived gassings until evening time. The experience gave me a new understanding of how the solders lived and acted on the front.

Day eight we went back to Fromelles to visit the cemetery and take a look around we even went for a walk about six hundred metres down the road and another couple of kilometres to a pill box that Hitler was a runner between in the First World War and was wounded. We then went to the new Fromelles museum, a small museum but had quite a few people in there. We then went to the Canadian memorial. Let’s just say they are not subtle in their design, they also; like the French,
like their statues of women on monuments. We next went to the battle field of Bullecourt where tanks were first used and first failed. Also where the soldier I had to research won his V.C and I told the group of his brave tale.

Day nine started with a bus ride down to the Somme, away from Lille and Belgium, to the Adelaide war cemetery near Villiers-Bretonneux that was strafed in World
War II by Germans. In the cemetery I found a Kurriite by the name corporal B. Johnson M.M, and the view from the top of the tower was amazing! Next we visited the Lochnagah crater, bigger than Hill 60 but not a high or important, but a British soldier was killed by debris. We then visited the Theipval, with the names of thousands of British solders with unknown graves. When I saw the French graves I must admit I thought of Metallica’s Master of puppets album
cover. Next we went to the Canadian memorial park where the Canadian government purchased land to remember all their fallen. The park is still full of unexploded munitions not yet found. After this we retired for the night in Amiens.

Day ten we went sightseeing in Amiens, looking at the great cathedral in the city centre. Later we went to the Pozieres centenary where the twenty three thousand
dead and wounded Australians reclaimed just six hundred acres of France the same land I walked on. It was very humbling.

Day eleven was the day we flew out of Paris meaning an end of our trip to the western front. We arrived back in Australia at about seven thirty at night and I could not wait to get home.

This trip was the greatest thing to happen to me in my life, it showed me a place a world away and I made lifelong friendships with, not only the students but also the teachers, and also the research task we had to complete was fun but had its difficulties. Thank you to everyone who helped me on my trip, to the SRC, Rotary, the parish of Mt Vincent and Weston, the Free Masons, RSL, Mrs Edwards and everyone who helped me on the way.