The Retirees go Abroad – ANZAC Day Dawn service and Villiers Bretonneux

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We did not get back to Des Hortillonnges on Friday; I napped too long apparently. We did go back to the Mall but the promised rain seemed imminent as the weather closed in. Dark clouds and sprinkles of rain chased us all the way back to the apartment.

We set the alarm for 02.00am. I slept like a log and Kerry nervously awaited the alarm. At the appointed hour we dressed packed our backpack and headed for the train station. We were not alone. People were gathering from all directions and not just Australians. However the guides were not so anxious and they did not arrive til 03.00am and the buses (17 of them) until 03.15am. This caused many to wander aimlessly checking and double checking that they would not miss the bus.

Suddenly, Tour Perrett was illuminated with the Australian flag and then followed the guides and then the buses in no particular order. Our tickets allocated the bus we were to catch. Some were the “short tour” – just the dawn service and others like our bus number 5 were for the “long tour” – the dawn service and the French service at the memorial at Villiers Bretonneux. Boarding the bus we were issued with badges to identify our tour and bus number and lapel badges to commemorate the occasion.

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The bus took about 20 minutes to travel to the Australian War Memorial and about 20 minutes to navigate the traffic to drop us at the memorial. There were thousands of people, some walking but most arriving by bus. As we alighted fine rain started to fall and a strong breeze blew it into our faces. We walked through the entry into the cemetery. Grave stones decorated with flags of the nationality of the soldier where known stood to attention to our left and right. Australian, New Zealand, British, French, Indian and South African flags identified the nations recognised at the memorial.

There is limited seating so we made our way quickly to get a good position from which to witness the ceremony. Darkness splintered by the camera lights for the broadcast and the official ceremony spread all around so everything seemed somewhat eerie with shadows crossing the graveyard and the monument continuously. We found suitable seats and then the rain started to fall in earnest. We had brought our “Bayeaux Tapestry” ponchos and umbrella. We were confident we would stay dry. Many were not prepared and someone made a lot of money selling clear plastic rain hoods. The military personnel carried on with protection and despite the rain.

We were seated by 04.00am. However the service could not start til the Gallipoli service had finished. In between there were songs, music, a photographic tribute projected onto the tower of the memorial and rain.

With the dawn members of the Federation Guard formed the Catafalque Party to commence the service. The Australian Ambassador to France welcomed everyone and the Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Tim Barrett presented the Call to Remembrance. Monsignor Stuart Hall Principal Chaplin for the RAN performed the Prayer for Remembrance and the Prayer for Peace. Kevin Andrews Minister for Defence delivered the Commemorative Address and Madame Pascale Boistard Secretary of State for Women’s Rights delivered the Commemorative Address for the French nation. This was followed by a reading then the official wreath laying, the Ode of Remembrance the piper, the Last Post, a Minutes Silence and Reveille. The service ended with the national anthems for Australia and France a final blessing from Monsignor Hall and the Catafalque Party dismounts. And still it rained.

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The solemnity of the occasion was somewhat destroyed by the rush to the buses that followed. Our rain coats and umbrellas had been partly successful and everyone had the same paranoia about missing the bus back to Villiers Bretonneux, so everyone hurried past the graves to board their bus with some mayhem ensuing. And still it rained.

The drive to the village took less than 10 minutes. So by 07.30am we found ourselves dropped off in an unfamiliar place with vague directions as to where to find the village square and the French Memorial. But it had stopped raining and the glow of the morning illuminated our path to the village. A short stroll through a wooded park brought us to the Marie (the village town hall and Mayor’s office), the village square and the “commercial centre” of the village.

The rush was on for toilets and a warm beverage. We found a less popular café and comfortably fulfilled our requirements before strolling around to the village, the village church, the bakery, the museum and the school. The French service commenced at 09.00am followed by a concert. We attended the service along with the same dignitaries who had attended the Australian service but we were unable to attend the concert. The village hall was filled to overflowing. So we returned to the bakery and the courtyard at the rear until our bus returned at 10.30am.

We returned to Amiens by 11.00am. The stroll back to our apartment seemed a little harder now but after some lunch at the apartment and a rest we were off to Des Hortillonages.

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