Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Last Post for the Somme.

Yesterday was a vey emotional day for many of the group.
Some had decided not to travel to where we were going because of their dislike of war and its consequence but, in memory of our forefathers, in memory of our ancestors and in memory of their children (our parents) this was to be a highlight of our trip on all things French.
Some two hours from Rouen is where soldiers fought 100 years ago for freedom, not only for France, but for all over the world.
Australian soldiers as well as British, Canadian, American, New Zealand and the French, let's not forget the French soldiers, fought for their right to be normal living human beings in their world as well as ours and so we knew this was where we wanted to go for the day.
We had an early start being up with the birds, so to speak, and our bus trip took as mentioned before, two hours at least.
Our initial port of call was the Australian/French War Memorial which was placed atop a hill that was so fiercely fought for all those years ago. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers died, brothers, sons, husbands, boyfriends and lovers whose lived were cut short as a consequence and are buried in cemeteries dotted all around the landscape as we drive by.
The memorial to those fallen as mentioned is placed utop a hill that is not too far from Amiens and is very close to Villers Bretonneux. The grave sites are so very moving as not all of them contain names. Many are marked as "Unknown Soldier". Some are marked with names, some have their rank and some have little epitaphs from family from home.
It is a cold windy place and the moisture from the ground wets my shoes before too long as I inspect the final resting place of many soldiers.
I feel like I am walking in water but I have the comfort of knowing that once I climb aboard the bus again my feet will dry out partially.
At the very least, I will be able to have a warm shower tonight and change my clothes which is far far much more than those who fought during that time, ever had a hope to do.
We climb up to the top of the monument and wonder at the scenery that surrounds us, all the while taking photos of the idyllic country side with the only sound a being tractors, the occasional bird and a few cars in the distance.
I look to where the patchwork farmland is carefully manicured and think how pretty it is.
How different to one hundred years ago when there were holes in the ground with broken, splintered trees and bodies lying every which way.
Eventually we are encouraged to return to our bus and so, we journey on to our next stop which is the township of Villers Bretonneux.
We alight the bus and look towards the school that was razed to the ground during that horrible dastardly war and since then has been built again, ably partially assisted by fundraising from children from Victorian schools. The children here are constantly reminded of the sacrifices made to restore their school with a plaque out the front, not to mention signs in the school yard about the Australians that supported them as well.
We are encouraged to travel upstairs to the Villers Bretagny museum which contains relics from the 'Great' war, memorabilia from soldiers who were pining for their homeland and photographs, oh so many photographs of sad lonely faces so many miles from their homeland wondering what the hell they are doing amidst all this madness and chaos.
There are uniforms to gaze at, pieces of shrapnel, defunct guns and parts of cannons and tanks that had blown up during the fighting.
It is the photos though that catch my attention and make me weep for those boys that were never to return home to their families.
Unfortunately, it is soon time to move on for we can only spend a short time here.
We return to our buses and on we go to our next spot which is a villa/hotel where we receive a delicious lunch of quiche, soup and dessert of lemon tart.
It is during this time at lunch that I am so fortunate to have the opportunity to volunteer for something that will resonate with me for a long time after this trip, but more about that later.
We soon move on from this place, this vast countryside with its farms, villages and graves.
We visit yet another grave site and pay our respects to fallen soldiers and then finally move on to where the Battle for the Somme occurred.
This place is so incongruous. The sun is shining when we arrive and the leaves are dappled in their light.
There are forests to my right and left and if I did not know the history I would delight in the innocence I find before me. This innocence though is only of my imagination for this is where thousands of soldiers lives were destroyed in one foul swoop one morning, early, to retain an advantage for the country they were fighting for. Once upon a time, there were trenches here, mud filled rat infested swaps where soldiers froze and fought and wondered if they would ever get out alive from this hell hole. Now it is a peaceful,tranquil place with nary a sound other than birds and tractors in the distance.
Whilst at lunch earlier, our tour guide came up to our table and asked if someone would like to volunteer to read a poem written some three years ago by a descendant of a soldier who fought and died in the Great War.
Me being the volunteer that I am spoke up immediately and said that if it was ok, I would love to read this poem. I was to read this at the Memorial Centre by the grave sites of the French soldiers who died in the Great War and was to be read in front of 100+ people on our tour but that did not phase me. It was the words in the poem that put a lump in my throat and made me weep softly and wonder how on earth I would manage this.

"Why do you cry"

I stood in a field in a faraway land drawn to the spot but could not understand
What made me stop right next to this grave and what was this strange sad feeling it gave
Though the all alone I really felt a presence of someone so I just knelt
It seemed I needed to sit in the cold and wait for something to me to be told
Why do you cry the young soldier said and why are you her in the field of the dead
His voice was so soft I hardly could hear and when I first looked there was nobody near
He looked like a shadow in his old uniform and it seemed to me he could never be warm
I knew in my mind he could not be real but it seemed his presence would help me to feel
What all people think when they come to see the place where their loved ones lie over the sea
He asked me again and when I replied I said it was for all of mankind that I cried
I cry for the children that were never to be when all of the soldiers came over the sea
I cry for those fathers who all had to stay as their sons went to war in a land far away
I cry for the mothers every last one who watched as the war took their dearly loved son
I cry for the girl who lost her sweetheart as she waved him goodbye when they had to part
I cry for their friend who at home had to be as their mates went to war far over the sea
I cry for the man who lies in this ground not knowing if ever his body was found
I cry for the freedom this hero gave me and I cry that his knowing this never will be
I heard a soft sigh and his voice gently said this is my grave and though I am dead
You have found me and so I know I can rest happy to know we all gave our best
I then saw his eyes fill with tears so I said why do you weep for young soldier now dead
As he faded away like I knew he would do his voice said my son my tears are for you.

Written by Ray Jackson. Rememberance Day 2013

When the time came and I was fitted with a microphone, I drew strength from those in the ground around me. I drew strength from my husband as he stood by my side and I drew strength from my children as well. I faltered a little a couple of times but got through it, pleased with my effort and walked away proud of my contribution.

Soon it was time to leave this place and return once more to our buses for a long journey home.
I slept fitfully as we travelled homeward and dreamt of trees and children. There were large silent windmills in the distance and I marvelled at how the world is accepting and changing in some places, whereas war and death continues to be perpetuated in others.

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