A Travellerspoint blog

Day 9, Albert and Anzac Day at Villers-Bretonneux

Anzac Day preparations and battlefield reflections

rain 5 °C

Day 9 already. The first two days of the Battlefields tour have flown. Our hosts are just so warm and generous ... they also run a B&B which their tour guests stay at normally, but because there were 28 on the tour most days, the B&B only has four rooms so we were all accommodated in a new Hotel in Ypres (Belgium) for the last two nights and at the Ibis Hotel in Albert the first night as it was the closest accommodation the Villers-Bretonneux site. I think the last time I woke up at 3:45am was when I was breast-feeding Sally ..... so that would be 28 years ago. So, we were all on time for the Dawn Service with the help of an early morning wake up call and our mobile phone alarms for back up.

The Gendarmaries were directing traffic at the site and did not allow private vehicles; as there is no parking at the Cemetry. The coaches were allowed to drop off and pick up only. Actually it didn't take long to evacuate everyone after the service and breakfast afterwards in the tents. It was amazing really that people moved out so quickly.

The cold wind, the stillness, pink and grey of the dawn's rising sun against the foreground of the Rising Sun on the Memorial, with birdsong and the music from the band and choir of Churchlands Senior High School band certainly is a breath taking experience. On arriving in the dark, we were given badges and an Order of Service from the Australian soldiers on duty and had to find a spare seat in the dark ..... the small torch I had helped a bit. I would like to have been closer but I did have an aisle seat which must have been about thirty rows from the front. For those of you who saw the telecast, I was on the left-hand side facing the memorial .... the same side as the breakfast tents. The introduction by the Australian Ambassodor to France, Ric Wells, had just started when I took my seat then followed the prologue by Vice Admiral Ray Griggs (Chief of Navy). Looking up to the memorial in the darkness, I saw the bugler at his post in the 32-metre Memorial Tower. It was cold on the ground, it must have been freezing for him in the tower). Principal Chaplain Stuart Hall prayed the Prayer of Remembrance and the Prayer For Peace before the choir sang "Thine Be The Glory". Teenage Australian school students from different State's participated in the ceremony with a confident young girl from Roseville College reading from the Old Testament, Wisdom 4: 7-15. The Commemorative Address was provided by the Minister for Veterans' Affairs Warren Snowden, whose four great-uncles served here. Some historians believe the battle fought at Villers-Bretonneaux changed the course of the war. Etched into the walls are the names of more than 11,000 Australian soldiers who have no known grave. There are 770 graves of Australian Diggers, as well as other Commonwealth soldiers involved in the campaign.

The French Government Representative gave an address; but the most moving aspects were the readings of letters by the Anzac Spirit Prize recipient, a young student from South Australia and the Western Australia President of the War Widows Guild. The letters were poignant reminders of the tragic losses felt specifically by the mothers who hoped that their sons would return but who died of their wounds here.

The official wreath laying ceremony took place, then the Ode of Remembrance by Corporal Kylie Walters from the ADF. Finally the Last Post rang out from the Tower and the dawn sprayed its light on the proceedings. It is estimated that 3,500 people were in attendance ..... the one minute silence was astonishingly moving followed by the Reveille and our National Anthem, and the Final Blessing.

Members of the Public were invited to lay floral tributes. I had the thistle from Mum's floral arrangement, a poppy and two Australian flags tied together which I placed at the foot of the Memorial. Later, when the dignatories had dispersed, the public ..... mostly Australians and British, milled around the foot of the memorial taking photographs from the official podium. I asked a young Englishman to tke my photo in front of the flag and I took a photo of the thistle on the memorial.

The French locals provided coffee, biscuits and small croissants for breakfast and it was time for more photographs of the visit before waiting for our guide and coach. Then it was off to Saint Quentin and Peronne to visit the cemetries there and then to Bullecourt for the 12:30pm commemorative service, again with Warren Snowdon and the choir and band from the Churchlands Senior High school. Bullecourt is a 40-minute drive from Villers Bretonneux and by the time we arrived the weather was really poor. It had started to rain and was bucketing down for the entire proceedings. The poor students had no protection from the rain, nor their female conductor!!

What has struck me about this battlefield tour is that the war occurred in what were farming villages, no bigger than a population of about 30 or less homes. Mouquet Farm is just that ......... a farm on a few acres .... not a village at all. The area was always a farming area and what were once battlefields are again being used for crops. As farmers till the land, shrapnel from WWI is brought to the surface. We visited a strawberry and leek farm where the farmer had a table of shell casings and other item dug from this plots. A "live shell" when found is placed at the side of the road where a disposal crew come to remove it!!

On the Tuesday afternoon, we visited the Villers-Bretonneux school which was rebuilt with the help of donations from Victorian school children in the 1920s and carries a plaque in English and French: "This building is the gift of the school children of Victoria Australia to the school children of Villers Bretonneux, as a proof of the love and goodwill toward France. Twelve hundred Australian soldiers, the fathers and brothers of these children, gave their lives in the heroic recapture of this town on 24th April 1918 and are buried near this spot. May the memory of great sacrifices in a common cause keep France and Australia together forever in bonds of friendship and mutual esteem."

The Musee Franco-Australien is on top of the school. I felt it to be quiet and reflective, devoted to telling the story of the Australians in France and Villers Bretonneux through photographs, documents, flags, uniforms and testimony. There is a collection of Australian memorabilia — letters, photographs, battlefield souvenirs and a kangaroo!!

Memorials for the fallen are dotted between the towns, villages and fields of the Somme. We visited those of significance to the members of the tour. We had a couple on the tour and the wife's grandfather had been warded a VC and so we visited the locations of his contributions durin the war. Puppa was a Pioneer which meant he was in the support groups and would have been stationed in many of the areas we visited. Both Annette (tour guide who did a lot of research for the other members of group as well as for me) and from my own research, have been unable to find any exact locations of his service. I know Puppa's wasin the field hospitals at Etaples and Abbeville. But now I have a much better understanding of the locations and how close the villages are to each other, I can do further research.

Ending this now and will start a new posting with days the Menin Gate Service and days three and four of the tour. Thank you for reading this and for your comments. Much appreciated.

Love to all, Lyn xxxxxx

Posted by Lyn Dennis 14:02 Archived in Belgium Tagged villers_bretonneux bullecourt dawn_service mont_st_quentin Comments (0)

Anzac Day 2012

Villers-Bretonneux and Bullecourt Services and the Menin Gate, Ypres, Belgium

rain 5 °C

25 April has many recollections for me ...... Receiving visitors at Nepean Hospital when Liam was 2 days old; Boys Brigade and Girl Guide services in Glenbrook ... then today ..... Watching the sun rise at Villers-bretenneax, singing our National Anthem at each of the three ceremonies we attended has made an equally lasting impression.

Will write more soon. Early starts are not my thing and our tour guide tells us to rest and we will be picked up at 10:00am tomorrow.

Love Lyn. Xoxoxo oxoxox

Posted by Lyn Dennis 14:09 Archived in Belgium Tagged day gate anzac villers-bretonneux menin bullecourt Comments (1)

Lille to Villers Bretonneaux

Day 1 WWI Battlefields Tour

rain 11 °C

Can't write much now because getting up at 3:45am for the dawn service means an early night for the 28 Australians on this tour. Most are doing just today and tomorrow .... Only a few going onto the extra two days tour in the people mover. Our hosts .... Annette and Christian are so knowledgeable about anything to do with the Australians and WWI and willing to share their enthusiasm and knowledge. Sat at the table for dinner with them, the driver Stephan (French/Flemish) and another couple from Brisbane. Dorothy does patchwork! and Russell love steam trains.

Will report on today's activities tomorrow. ..... Suffice to say this tour is all I imagined and more.

Lyn x

Posted by Lyn Dennis 12:55 Archived in France Tagged tour dawn service wwi villers bretonneaux Comments (1)

Dimanche et Lundi a Nantes and Lille

Sunday and Monday in Nantes and Lille

all seasons in one day 9 °C

If Saturday is market day .... Sunday is rest and relaxation day. Most stores are closed, residents hurry along to church services with the Church bells tolling constantly. Those not in Church are in shorts and joggers pounding along on the uneven cobblestones. At 7pm some cafes, bars and restaurants open. It's been a very quiet day for everyone but the tourists I think ..... the tourist office is not open, however and it does not open Mondays either!!

I used the remainder of my "hop on hop off" pass to tour the full circuit of the ride, plus a little bit extra to hop off at the River Erdre to walk along the canals and visit a Japanese garden I read about last night in the travel guide that you are given when buying the ticket. I actually managed to tick quite a few venues off my list today and have done most of it on foot.

Ran out of time to take a sight-seeing tour of the River as I had planned because I spent 5 hours soaking up the castle atmosphere and associated history and still could have had another good hour there. The castle now houses the Nantes Museum and each room has a different theme of Nantes through the ages, also incorporating new audio/visual and touch screen technology as well as traditional written words in three languages in huge books in each of the 30 rooms. So much thought has gone into this museum. The font type used in the huge books are indicative of each of the eras .........it took a good hour to walk around the ramparts, towers and parapets taking photos of the magnificent views of the city and inside the castle walls. It certainly takes you back to medieval times and the history is absorbing. Nantes was heavily involved in the slave trade from West Africa, continuing the trade long after it was officially abolished. There is sincere acknowledgement of this throughout the displays. At every turn and looking backwards the camera was working overtime again. It didn't really matter most of the descriptions of artifacts in the exhibitions was in French as the artifacts and displays told their own story.

It rained again on and off today ..... I'm sure from what I have read that this is common and other reviews also say the light is affected by the constant fogs and winds coming in from the Atlantic. It's indicative of Nantes that the photos will be affected by the Nantes lighting. I found the same thing with photos of Ireland eight years ago. We are spoilt in Australia having great natural sunlight.

Tomorrow I'll be heading north to Lille - four hours by train.

Random facts from today

  • the joy of finding a warm singlet in the bottom off my luggage. Are four layers enough? They weren't yesterday.
  • the joy of finding the last pair of Aldi hiking socks in the bottom of my luggage. They are sooooo warm and spongy when you're on your feet all day.
  • the joy of finding a laundromat two streets away .... Tomorrow is Monday ...Washday.  Ahhhh the joy of warm singlets and socks again.
  • searching for an elusive rue in the Bouffray district of the old city, trying to orient the map and stop it from ....

a) getting wet in this strange weather, and
b) blowing away with the chilly winds from the Atlantic, and
getting it close enough to actually see the tiny street names, I was stopped by two Frenchmen who offered to help. One was young and gorgeous, the other a older gentleman. I declined their help as I thought it was safer not to engage with them in these small rues with not too many passers by. However, I did appreciate their offers. Merci beau coup on both counts!

  • finally found the medieval houses I had on my list anyway. Just kept walking. Arrived back at the hotel with a French/Chinese/Thai takeaway. By pointing to the container sizes and the trays of precooked meals on display, I bought a dinner that I knew.
  • Australians look Anglo-saxon but it must obvious that we are not literate in French. Sign language and drawing a picture of a Euro in the air or on the counter top conveys the question of how much do things cost if the price is difficult to work out. Chinese meals are sold by the kilo ...... 15€ per kilo ...... who knows how much the little container holds or how full the chef is going to fill it? I was given the docket to show me how much it cost, while at the same time the chef was telling me in French how much it cost!!!! Show me the docket any day.
  • the French have long conversations and speak really quickly ..... unfortunately I'm lost unless they speak slowly ....one word at a time.
  • single nouns in French have sufficed to date but I really think that I owe it to the French to try harder as I am taking so much enjoyment away with me I feel it is too one-sided on my behalf. Taxi Gare sve ou plait ........ Should be "please could you cal me a taxi to the station. But unfortunately taxi Gare was all I could manage.
  • while sorting out packing and washing for tomorrow, I watched Legally Blonde 1 and 2 in French .....sadly I already know the stories so the language was not a barrier!!!

Tried to send my blog last night but wifi disconnection and losing the text three times put me off trying my luck further ( and Legally Blonde 2 had finished)!

Today is travel day and my boy's birthday. Happy Birthday Liam. Sorry I am not able to celebrate it with you .... But this year I truly have a better offer. You know I am thinking of you tho.

So .... Check out time is not indicated anywhere on mt account or on the literature in the room. At le petite dejeunere I asked the receptionist after looking "check out" up in the trusty (if yellowing-with-age) French/English high school dictionary. Quelle heure et chaisse? I asked politely. She shrugged her shoulders. I'm thinking, but she works here, she must know what time guests check out. So I showed her the word "check out" out in the trusty French/English high school dictionary and the writing is so tiny for both of us to read in the dimly light breakfast room that the Head Receptionist overhears this debacle and says 11 o'clock!

Head off to the laundromat and observe the locals to figure out how all this works. There are about a dozen washing machines and four big dryers. Some of the machines are 5-7 kilos others are are 8-10 and one big one for sheets, etc.  Oh, didn't bring scales to weigh my washing so if it fits in the tumbler, I guess it's 5-7 kgs. You have to buy your powder first, tip it into the little drawers and select on the machine the type of wash (there are pictures of thermometers and degree levels). The words blanc and colors are listed. My load is mixed!  Go the safest option and chose a low temperature. The door won't shut .... it's a front loader. Maybe my load actually is 8-10 kgs after all!  Ok there is a white box on the wall with numbers 0-9 on a keypad. The fast-speaking French lady who runs the place and others in the Laundromat realize I have no idea what I am doing and come to the rescue. Handing over a 5€ note to her to feed into this machine, it is rejected five times before finally being eaten ... she presses the number of the washing machine (14) into the keypad in sequence, the machine starts spinning and I get 2€ change. Showing me 25 on the washing machine means I'll be here for 25 minutes at least. Drying ....... similar principle ...... 22 is the dryer number, preset the temperature and it knows how much to charge .... 1€. Sweet, am I getting the hang of this or what!  Then, the fast-speaking French lady who is now polishing the washing machines is swinging a pair of my cottontails in the air and pointing to the door of the washing machine number 14 indicating they got caught in the door!!!! By now the population of the laundromat is ten and everyone (male and female) are aware that they are my smalls that got caught in number 14 washing machine!!!! Quickly taking them from her and thrusting them into the dryer, I am hoping no one knows how embarrassed I feel. It took another 2€ before things were dry. An interesting time also watching the locals come and go with their washing and so different to us in the suburbs of Australia. The streets are so narrow that having a laundrette across the road open from 8:30am to 11:30pm would be similar to your own laundry in a way. Well, I did want to live like a French local on this trip.

Domestic chores done, I head off for my last walking tour of an arrondisement that is renowned for yet another beautiful Gothic cathedral with gold spires on top. Found it, plus a fabric shoppe .... found one other already ..... Closed on Mondays but took a photo of it as it was so cute.  The rain starts again and that chilly wind.  Got to get back to the hotel to get a taxi to the station as I was sure the train left at 2:30pm. I did check it last night. On the way back I discovered two more sights from my list. Another medieval set of two houses and a little park.  Through the rain I took photos... probably have rain drops on the lens ... But at this point I have no option .... Click.

The hotel receptionist books my taxi ...... It's 1:35pm.  By 1:55pm she tells me it will be here in 5 minutes.  The church bell across the road tolls 2:00pm. Five minutes later the taxi arrives and  we are off to Gare Nantes. The machines that dispense the tickets are a bit daunting and I have managed to avoid them so far preferring to show my " confirmation voucher" to a human being and help them retain their jobs (know what it feels like to be redundant after all!). Ticket dispensed and, on checking the departure board, my train to Lille is not showing!!!!  Check the time on the ticket and it left at 2:08pm without me!!!! Note to self ...... Remember the 24 hour clock and commit the minutes to memory. Plan B? Didn't have one!  Why would a human being dispense a train ticket for a train that had already left?  Found an English-speaking reservation clerk who tres tres kindly rebooked me on the next train to Paris leaving at 3:00pm changing at Gare Montparnasse for a metro train to Gare de Nord for another train to Lille. My expired ticket was transferred to this new reservation and I am writing this on the train to Lille ....ETA 8:18pm instead of the direct train I missed ..... ETA 6:00pm. I think daylight saving has started here because it doesn't get dark until after 8:00pm. The Lille Hotel Flandres is right next to the Lille Flandres Gare so it should still be light by the time  the train arrives. Chose that hotel for its proximity to the station. Now I am relieved I did. Tomorrow I meet the other Australians on the four day battlefields tour and our knowledgeable guides. A significant reason for this trip .... To retrace Puppa's steps during WWI, which so many other Australians have been able to do; now it's my turn.

The wind is strong today that there were waves on the water in the canals that run parallel to the SNCF train line from Nantes north to Paris. I feel that these may be a reminder from past centuries before rail and road transport.

Geographic dyslexia is doing my head in. I've always had a problem with the direction of the returning train from Armidale to Sydney (going to Tamworth to visit Robyn and Dave); but the train to Paris had backed into the station and the back of the train looks like it should be the front (pointy ended like in the advertisements) and my booked seat was facing backwards. After the setback of missing the first train, I haven't tried to figure it all out yet. The SNCF trains are "very fast trains" but they don't appear any different from traveling to Tamworth except with fewer stops. It's disconcerting to be backwards in the head, not facing the direction you are going in and in a different hemisphere where the cars are on the wrong side of the road. I accidentally tried to get in the driver's side of the taxi .... that would be the passenger side in Australia. Clearly I need therapy for this condition or I wonder if Merck make a tablet for it! Oh, at the patchwork show on Friday, Merck had a seminar in another room to the patchwork show. There was their logo with an arrow pointing downstairs to the venue. Is there some irony in that or what?

My foray with the Metro has been tentative (twice so far) but looking forward to using it more next week when I stay for seven days in an apartment. It seems very efficient and it's a "doors open, doors close immediately" scenario. I guess if passengers know that the next train will be along within a few minutes, it doesn't matter if you miss out by a few seconds.

The sky is grey and  cloudy again and the countryside from Paris to Lille is rural and follows a major road it seems - there are hardly any hills - the land is very flat from my observations. Patchwork fields again and tiny hamlets of  farms and typical French homes and a few traditional small windmills but farms of tri-bladed  white windmills. So many things here are in miniature. The stairs on the open top bus were spirally and built in less than a metre of space. Goes to show you that you can fit anything into a small space if necessary.  

Now arrived safely in Lille after such a funny and eventful day. My room is at the front overlooking the railway station .... it's on the fifth floor .... There is an old fashioned lift the size of a fridge with an internal sliding panelled door and an outer door that pushes outwards in the corridor. Pushing and pulling doors to open them is also a challenge - I'm sure there is logic to the way the door should open but it escapes me. Is there a tablet for that too.

Thank you for reading this blog. Please send me news from home ..... good, bad or otherwise.
Cheers, Lyn

Posted by Lyn Dennis 12:47 Archived in France Tagged paris train river cathedral castle language french battlefield nantes lille patchwork Comments (1)

Day 4 Nantes is certainly breathtaking

What a fantastic day of discovery

all seasons in one day 9 °C

The "hop on hop off" open top bus was a great idea .... for an extra 5€ the ticket lasts 24 hours and provides complimentary entry to lots of museums and tourist venues. I hopped off once and did not hop back on. It was way too fascinating to walk the streets of this magnificent old medieval part of the city. The photos do not do it justice. At every turn, there are breath-taking architectural marvels ..... and not just at street level. Look up, and there are old wooden buildings from the middle ages, some even leaning inwards to shadow the narrow cobblestone rue below. I used a portable audioguide headset loaned to me by the Tourist Office which provided a brief description and historical background into the sights we were taken to. Think of a bus negotiating the narrow streets of Glebe or Balmain and you have a good idea of the drive. From the research I did, I was pleased to visit on foot several of the rues and buildings on my list.

Saturdays in Nantes means markets. All types .... Fresh fish, vegetables, clothing, shoes, cheeses, fresh meat and French bread sticks. This is where I "hopped off the bus" to wander and discover for myself the delights of this beautiful and surprising city. The Passage de Pomeraye is a three-stores 19th century arcade .... think The Strand in Sydney ..... Crepe again for lunch .... the dictionary revealed epinard is spinach. The two guys at the next table offered to help me translate the menu, which was so nice of them to offer, but by then I had sorted out a crepe with mushrooms, egg and ham ...the safe bet ..... plus the most generous dollop of cream on top of my coffee I have ever been served.

Today the wind was chilling again and it rained then hailed then the sun shone ... This sequence was repeated three times. I've since read that this is quite a common occurrence ..... Interesting that it was not discovered earlier in my research. The light was quite difficult for photographs with shadows at times. Set the camera to manual when I could but still difficult. I've had to supplement my clothes with an additional warm skivvy from a shop like Witchery and a microfiber hooded coat that is showerproof and stops the chilly wind. Scarves are an absolute necessity ... hence the one my sister gave me the day I left has been used daily as has been my mauve beret.

Random facts from today ....

The plants in the pots are chained down
The middle ages Jewish quarter has passageways only 5 meters wide
The majority of the old buildings are now shops, cafes, bars and restaurants .... The advertisements in some cases are not sympathetic to their history.
In the middle of the old city is a fair dinkum castle .... think round towers, moats and princesses and you've got the image. I'm going back there tomorrow as there was insufficient time to view the inside of the castle which is now a museum of the historical development of Nantes.
The pigeons are outside my window again this evening. There is a little perch of pipe opposite my window they sit on to look at me through the window them come and sit on the window sill.

This is a most beautiful, quaint and totally surprising city, some was destroyed and significantly affected by wars and The Resistance .... the Resistance Museum would be on my list if I was staying longer and brave enough to drive, but that is not possible. Currently there is much development and redevelopment in both the old and new districts. The beautiful cathedral 5 minutes from my hotel was bombed in WWII and much of what is now the new district. Such a shame and waste but no doubt I will encounter this again in the next days of my travels.

A poignant fact I learned today is the naming of the Cours des Cinquarte Otages (Route of Fifty Hostages). Named after WWII, the story can be found on Wikipedia and contains a sad yet ironic tale.

Can't wait until tomorrow's adventure into a real life castle!

Hope all are having as much fun too.

Love Lyn x

Posted by Lyn Dennis 12:36 Archived in France Tagged cathedrals castle middle_ages cobblestones jewish_district wooden_buildings Comments (1)

(Entries 11 - 15 of 18) « Page 1 2 [3] 4 »