All posts by cityoftraralgonband

Au Revoir!

This morning marks the end of our ‘Tour of Remembrance’ UK/France 2015.  After two years in the planning and an intense lead-up, we have achieved what no other Australian Band, and indeed most other bands in the world, have ever attempted.  We feel proud to be members of the City of Traralgon Band and proud to be Aussies!

After meeting at 7am this morning and frantically checking luggage weight, about half the band and supporter crew waved the other half off for their flight home. Those left standing at the hotel were feeling a bit empty with the ‘other half’ gone. Jacqui and Alan were thrilled when all luggage went through at the airport without us having to pay excess baggage.

On this trip we have bonded as a band and formed strong friendships and memories that we will carry with us always.  We owe all these memories to our UK/France Committee Chairman, Alan Wilson, and thank him for bringing his dream to a reality, as well as the UK/France committee (Harry Alexander, Daryl Hill, Alex Wilson, Debbie Wilson and Tracy Olivier) and the main band committee members; all of whom have worked tirelessly over the past year in particular. Everyone on this tour has contributed in their own special way, and every job and contribution has been greatly appreciated and has helped us to achieve all that we have. Thank you to our loyal supporters at home, our families who have hardly seen us in the past months, our new groupies overseas and interstate, our social media mates and all who have helped us to achieve this dream.  Thank you also for following our blog and for your very kind words of feedback. Stay tuned for our next adventure!  xxxx

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The City of Light

A late breakfast was enjoyed by most today and it was nice to slow down after a hectic week. Some left early for Euro Disney (and some were meant to leave early for Euro Disney) while others enjoyed the local attractions and visited some of the famous Parisian landmarks. Lots of people visited the top of the Eiffel Tower for amazing views and some selfies, whilst others went to the Louvre, art galleries and museums, cathedrals, Notre Dame, Galeries Lafayette, and local boulangeries and patisseries. There is just so much to see and do.

In the early evening we met as a group to walk to the river Seine for our farewell river cruise and dinner. Our dinner was lovely (although the 5 entrées were rather interesting), and as we laughed and ate, we also managed to try Dale’s golden bling for a snapshot! After a three-course meal we had a little time to enjoy the roof-top area where there was a refreshing breeze after a 33 degree day. Just as we left the cruise we were hit by a sudden storm, with everyone running into either the souvenir shop or (conveniently!!) the nearby pub. Many then met for drinks and merriment in the lobby bar, with lots of laughter and stories about the tour. News from today included:

  • The Mona Lisa winked at Wally; probably a cheeky wink after he set one of the alarms off at the Louvre whilst trying to take pictures of artwork.
  • Disaster Daryl had his arm stuck in a train door as it was departing at a busy station and he wasn’t able to get off in time, so he had to remain on the train, leaving his family on the platform until he could return later.
  • Craig’s mankini has led to much laughter. Why Craig even OWNS a mankini is beyond me. We believe you that it was a gift, Craig ;0)
  • Tracy was mistaken for the ‘Viking Tours’ guide in the hotel foyer by a large group of Americans and had them following her without her knowledge.
  • Sharon, Karen, Bonnie, Robbie, Nelson, Kim, Dave and Barney enjoyed a fabulous night out in the Latin Quarter where a jazz band from Chicago was playing in an old vault (dungeon sounds better, doesn’t it Kim?) beneath a cathedral. Bonnie and Karen danced the night away, and the ladies were each treated with a beautiful rose from the blokes.

At 11pm local time, Alan did a live radio cross with ABC Gippsland radio back at home and was interviewed by Craig Bush who was thrilled to hear about the success of our tour. Alan reported that we had made the French newspapers and TV news with our involvement in the Ravivage de la Flamme Ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe, and also in England with our success at the Whit Friday Contests. There is a link to the interview and our blog address on the ABC webpage. Dale Harriman also informed us that our local councilors from home are following his Facebook updates with great interest, support and pride, and that Senator Ian McDonald had also viewed his feed.

Only one more sleep. So sad :0(

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The Paris hat-trick

Voila – what an incredible day! Today we experienced three once-in-a-lifetime opportunities: playing under the Eiffel Tower, performing a concert in the park at Notre Dame, and leading the parade at the Ravivage de la Flamme Service for the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe. Life doesn’t get much better than this!

At 10.30am, we felt like naughty school kids as we headed to the Eiffel Tower, all of 2 minutes’ walk from our hotel, where we hoped to find a nice security guard who would let us play a few tunes. Alan had spoken to security from Australia and again last night, but we still hadn’t had a definite response about an exact location for our playout. In true flash-mob style we walked to the tower and set-up right underneath, in the centre of the square, and played Waltzing Matilda as a crowd quickly gathered around us to listen and take photographs. The sound of the drums and the band echoing around the tower was like nothing else. One American family had heard us from half way up the tower and their daughter had excitedly commented, ‘Look mummy, there’s a parade.’ We played around 8 pieces and finished playing just before two security guards in suits approached and told us to move out to the grass area to the side rather than being under the tower. Our timing was perfect and we had got away with our plan! It was then that we noticed three burly army/security men had moved in around us, each dressed in full army greens and carrying a mean-looking sniper gun. We stayed for a while to get lots of photos (yes there was a lot of kissing under the tower) and couldn’t believe how perfectly things had gone. What a super start to the day; the sun was shining without a cloud in the sky and the band spirit was high.

After returning to the hotel and packing all the percussion equipment in a coach, we headed to Notre Dame Cathedral where we set up in the outdoor rotunda to perform a concert to all those relaxing in the park. We had a wonderful audience who clapped, cheered and took selfies with us it the background. We even had a security guard who requested people move away – haha, how famous! Some little French school children came and sat on the steps to watch and we even had a groupie, Doug, from Fish Creek who found us on his first day in Paris. As the band members sweltered in the open rotunda, sunscreen was frantically passed around and our band supporters provided a continual stream of cold water bottles. One highlight was Craig playing Roses de Picardie, a famous French tune, and hearing the audience singing over the top of the band. Many listeners meandered through the park, with others sitting on benches in the shade or approaching band members and supporters to find out more about our tour. Wally made the comment, ‘Wow, I could not be happier right now’, and he was right, it had been an incredible day for our band in a beautiful city.

From Notre Dame we were driven straight to the Arc de Triomphe where we were dropped off along the Champs Elysees (how posh), the famous avenue leading up to the Arc. Amazingly, we would be the fourth non-French band in 120 years to lead the procession and music at the national service of the Ravivage de la Flamme in honour of the Unknown Solider at the Arc de Triomphe. What an honour. Mr. Eric Brisse, the Musical Director of the Amiens Brass Band, had initiated the involvement of our band in this honoured, annual event, and for this, we thank him greatly. The Arc de Triomphe was built by Napolean between 1806 and 1836 in honour of those who fought in the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its surfaces.  Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War 1, symbolic all soldiers who fought for France and died during the war.

Upon arrival, our Musical Director, Drum Major and wreath layers were ushered through an underground walkway to an official’s office deep under the Arc, in which around 15 officials, ministers and ‘important people’ were jammed in for a briefing session prior to the service. Our crew was then taken upstairs to the flame to discuss the band’s positioning and role throughout the service. A big thank you to Eric Brisse for translating for us so that we had some idea of what the plan would be! Upon returning to the band, we formed in band formation and waited with interest to see how the police could possibly stop the hundreds of cars that drive around the Arc de Triomphe roundabout 10-abreast without lanes so that we could march across the massive road…. and live! There are 12 avenues joining the roundabout at the Arc de Triomphe, and in the case of an accident, both parties are considered 50% responsible in regards to insurance, no matter what the circumstances.

When the signal was given and the cars were stopped from each direction, we led members of the French Army, veterans and dignitaries on the march along the cobblestones of the Champs Elysees towards one of the world’s most famous landmarks. We played Waltzing Matilda as we had done in the Whit Friday Contest in Saddleworth, to a crowd of thousands. Phil, our Drum Major, was incredulous about how we were going to possibly make it across the roundabout, on to the service area, then perform a right wheel (right turn), countermarch to turn ourselves around, then halt whilst still playing for those still marching in, but somehow we did it perfectly. No-one tripped on the bumpy and slippery cobblestones or small step in the playing area, everyone managed to squeeze through the entrance gates whilst still playing, and more importantly, no-one was run over.

14 year old Brandon Salter from Traralgon was chosen to carry the French flag throughout the service; a task which we were informed was an incredibly great honour and something that no other international participant has ever been invited to do. The service was lovely and involved many young children presenting flowers around a flame which burns at the centre of the service. Young Lachlan Wilson and Tracy Olivier from our band were chosen to present the City of Traralgon wreath and another wreath along with Australian Army Major Simon Patching and the Latrobe City Mayor, Cr. Dale Harriman, which was a very great honour and proud moment. Dale marched with the official party and performed all official duties with pride.

Following the service our band continued to play marches whilst the official parties, including the mayors, met with the children and guests and had official photographs. Our band was given the opportunity to have photos at the memorial and with the dignitaries and the sniper guards. We also had a Gippsland Grammar Old Scholars photo, as 11 of our bandsmen and women are ex-students of the Gippsland Grammar Music School.

We were blessed to have been an integral part of this national annual service and thank Eric for this unbelievable opportunity. None of us could have ever imagined that the City of Traralgon Band would stop the traffic at the Arc de Triomphe and contribute in such a profound way in remembrance of the Unknown Soldier, who represents all those lost in WWI. This was a very fitting end to the solemn part of our journey through France.

Other highlights from the past 24 hours include:

  • We met with the lovely Lauren Hill, daughter of Sue and Daryl, who is holidaying in Paris before starting a Contiki Tour next week. Brass Band Tours are the new Contikis, Lauren!
  • Brad met an American trumpet player in the lift and he even knew what a baritone is. Bless him.
  • Brad also accidentally met the local hashish dealer on the streets on his first night.
  • Poor Brad was also skun by a clown who expected payment of €10 for taking photographs with them. I think we might leave you at the hotel next time Brad!
  • Kim took a photo of men involved in illegal gambling on the streets and was harassed until she convinced them that she had deleted the photo. I will post it for you all to see later ;0
  • Nelson argued with a taxi driver regarding fare price.
  • Ali was grabbed by an illegal street vendor but was luckily okay.
  • Jennie also shared a fascinating story of an ancestor which she had had only learnt about when meeting with a cousin in the past week. Jennie and Neil had met up with Jennie’s relative Jackie and her friend Marion (from Liverpool) whilst in Manchester. Jackie’s grandmother was the sister of Jennie’s great-grandmother, Elizabeth Lovelady. Jennie found out how her great-grandmother was quite an adventurous person for her time. In a note to the blog, Jennie wrote: ‘She was born into a strict catholic family in Liverpool, and when she grew up she trained to become a nurse. She worked as a nurse on a cruise ship, and there she met the famous (and somewhat licentious) artist Aubrey Beardsley. Eventually, Elizabeth became Aubrey Beardsley’s private nurse. She must have had some influence in Beardsley’s life because she persuaded him to convert from being a Protestant to being a Catholic – a big thing in those days. When Elizabeth eventually resigned from her employment, Beardsley was so grateful that he gave her one of his drawings (probably worth hundreds of thousands of pounds today). Elizabeth brought the drawing home to her strict Catholic family and the various family members were shocked by the nudity and what they saw as licentiousness in the picture. Elizabeth’s older sister, who according to Jackie’s grandmother was very severe and ruled over all her sisters, took the picture and burnt it.’ The meeting was very beneficial from Jennie’s perspective. She finally met Jackie and Marion, whom she had been looking forward to meeting for a very long time, and found out this interesting news about her spirited great-grandmother.

Sadly, we have only one more full day on tour. After such a jam-packed and thrilling day today, tomorrow will no doubt be a big day spent cramming in all the city hightlights and attractions before our departure on Saturday.

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The Western Front – Day 2

After the bus saga of yesterday, we reluctantly boarded our coaches for a 9am departure today. We were split into two groups; the band members, who would visit two more important war memorials, and most of the supporters, who would visit the Villers-Bretonneux Primary School for the morning. Our plan was then to meet up together again at around 1.30pm before traveling to the Australian War Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux.

The journey started quite humorously; Neil was mistaken as a Porter in the hotel lobby, the bus relocated 10 metres up the road without Tracy so she attempted hitch-hiking in France, Craig was called a lady, Tom was seen offering Rescue Remedy pastilles on the bus and the driver asked about them in French, but the only word we could make out was ‘Viagra’, the Blue/Option 1 Bus thought they could perhaps sell their blue band jackets to raise money for a well-earned pub crawl, and Elsie (the non-drinker) almost bought a delicious-looking bottle of fresh orange juice, which was actually a vodka orange mix.

Our first solemn service for today was at the First Australian Division Memorial at Pozieres. Australian War Memorial information indicates that Pozieres was the scene of ‘bitter and costly fighting for the 1st, 2nd and 4th Australian Divisions in mid-1916.’ The Germans had prepared themselves well in Pozieres, building bunkers and digging between the cellars of people’s homes in order to create a web of underground tunnels throughout the town. Faced with heavy and ongoing attack, the First Australian Division regained the town on 23 July 1916, and by the time the 2nd Division relieved them, the 1st Division had suffered 5,285 casualties. After two further attacks, the Australians again suffered terribly with 6,848 casualties, however they managed to seize further German positions beyond the village. In what was the final attempt by the Germans to retake Pozieres, the 4th Australian Division endured a massive artillery bombardment and defeated a German counter-attack on 7 August 1916. War records show that: ‘In less than seven weeks in the fighting at Pozieres and Mouquet Farm, three Australian Divisions suffered 23,000 casualties. Of these, 6,800 men were killed or died of wounds. It was a loss comparable with the casualties sustained by the Australians over eight months at Gallipoli in 1915.’

At Pozieres, Monique Lawless played The Last Post for her first time, with the band feeling incredibly proud of her involvement. About one kilometre down the road from this memorial, some of our supporters were laying poppies for our local soldiers in the Pozieres Memorial Cemetery. Although many Australian soldiers are buried here, the memorial itself does not bear any Australian names. The Australian soldiers who fell in France and whose graves are not known are commemorated on the National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux.

High up on the ridge beyond Pozieres, our Battlefield Guides pointed out the commanding Thiepval Memorial and Anglo-French Cemetery, which would be our next stop. This memorial carries the names of almost 73,000 British and South African men who have no known grave and who fell on the Somme between July 1915 and 20 March 1918. Over 90% of those commemorated died between July and November 1916. The memorial, which stands at 140 feet high, has 16 piers on whose faces the names of the missing are inscribed. It stands on a concrete raft 10ft thick and 19ft below ground and is the largest British war memorial in the world. Beyond the memorial lie the beautifully-manicured and aligned graves of 300 British soldiers on one side and 300 French soldiers on the other side, in recognition of the joint nature of the 1916 offensive. From the top of the hill hear the arrival area at Thiepval, you can see across the farmland the devastating fields from Pozieres to Mouquet Farm ridge that, according to WWI Historian Charles Bean, are: ‘more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other place on earth.’ At this memorial, Barb and Terry Heskey had the privilege of laying the wreath on behalf of the band while Leon Salter played the Last Post during our solemn service.

After leaving this incredible memorial and education centre, we traveled to Villers-Bretonneux to meet with our supporters who had spent the morning with the school children at Villers-Bretonneux school. When the French village of Villers-Bretonneux was almost destroyed by the Germans during WWI, children from Victorian schools in Australia donated a penny to help rebuild the school and the residents of the village promised that they would one day return the favour. When the children of Villers-Bretonneux heard about the Black Saturday Bush Fires that had devastated Victoria, they wanted to help and the village raised $21,000 to donate to the bushfire appeal. On a large sign in the quadrangle of the school in Villers-Bretonneux are the words: ‘Do not forget Australia.’

On their visit to the beautiful school, supporters told of the excitement that the children had shown when meeting the Aussies and when receiving the gifts that we had taken for them. Sue Hill’s students from St. Michael’s Primary School in Traralgon had written letters and drawn pictures for the French students, and students from the two schools are now hoping to become pen pals. One supporter commented that the children were as excited as Christmas to open their box of treasures, which also included koala souvenirs and kangaroo brooch-pins. Young Brandon was apparently treated like a rock-star and some of the children even gave their prized pokemon cards as a gesture of friendship and respect. Sue, Lee and Sharon surprised all with their French abilities, but on the whole the children were better at speaking English than most of our supporters were at speaking French! It was reported at the school that they receive around 150-250 requests for visits each year, often from government delegates, so we were extremely lucky to spend so much time within the classrooms and school grounds. Our supporters also spoke to the gardener and congratulated him on his good work at the school, and gave him a kangaroo pin, which was received gratefully. The kids loved Mayor Harriman’s golden chains and also signed Bev Jago’s picture storybook about the area.

Following the school visit our supporters conveniently stumbled across a market and Ro surprised all and only bought 6 apples. Some visited the Mairie to meet the Mayor, Dr. Patrick Simon and Deputy Mayor, M. Benoit. Under French law the Mayor marries couples in the Salle de Mariag, a fact that our supporters found quite interesting. They also saw the council chambers and were told that Villers-Bretonneux has 3500 people and 27 councillors.

Although many shops here normally close from 12-2pm, our crew just made it to the boulangerie in time for delicious baguettes and authentic croissants.

Our journey then took us to the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux where we were overwhelmed by the size, the beauty and the significance of our surroundings. High on a hill, overlooking farmland and villages as far as the eye could see in every direction, we were overcome with the consequence of war and the importance of our tour from Australia to France. Here we quietly reflected on the human loss from a war which claimed over 60,000 Australian lives and in which 156,000 others were wounded, gassed or taken prisoner. On the night of April 24-25 1918, and three years after the landing at Gallipoli, Australian soldiers had moved up over the fields, which are now occupied by the cemetery and the memorial, to recapture Villers-Bretonneux from the Germans.

The grounds of the memorial are simply breathtaking and consist of a tower, which is surrounded by walls and panels on which the names of the missing dead are listed, a Cross of Sacrifice, and rows of graves on either side of the lush sloping hill surrounding the cross. The memorial lists almost 11,000 names of soldiers of the Australian Imperial Force with no known grave, all of who were killed in France and Belgium between 1916 and 1918. On 25th April each year, and ANZAC Day Dawn Service is conducted at the memorial by the Australian Government Department of Veteran’s Affairs.

At this memorial, we had almost 30 poppies to lay by request, one of which was for our ex-bandsman Ed Cobbledick. Alan was proud to find Ed’s name on the walls of Villers-Bretonneux, and a photo was taken of the entire band in front of his memorial. We also marched from the entrance to the tower playing Waltzing Matilda, with the sound of the band resonating from the long, stone memorial walls. At the tower we played a service of hymns, anthems and marches, and Craig played the Last Post to barely a dry eye. Whilst we continued to locate the soldiers’ names on the vast walls, we also took time to climb the tower and absorb the significance of our surrounds. In a touching and unexpected tribute, Craig stood at the top of the tower overlooking the whole memorial park and played The Rosary, which brought everyone in the park to a complete standstill. The Rosary was played from the trenches by trumpeter Ted McMahon in a performance that momentarily paused gunfire in Gallipoli in 1915. Craig described the opportunity to play the Last Post and The Rosary as an absolute honour and privilege.

Mr. Eric Brisse, the Musical Director of the Amiens Brass Band was not able to be present at the Villers-Bretonneux memorial service, but requested that Mr. Mike Lee read the following touching speech on his behalf:

‘You came from Australia to discover the roots of brass bands in Yorkshire. You came to share our passion for brass music. You came to share the French and Australian friendship which has endured over a century. You will have the great honour to participate at the Ravivage of the Flame and honour the French Unknown Soldier in Paris. You honoured the memory of the 54,896 British soldiers and other countries of the Commonwealth, who died up to August 15, 1917, in Ypres. You remembered Private Thomas Cosgriff and his brothers in arms in Fromelles.

You are here today in front of the names of the 10,773 solders of the Australian Imperial Force without a known grave who were killed between 1916, when Australian forces arrived in France and Belgium, and the end of the war. This place was chosen to commemorate the role played by the Australian soldiers in the Battle of Amiens in 1918. The memorial consists of a tower, in front of the Villers-Bretonneux military cemetery, which also includes a Cross of Sacrifice. The tower is surrounded by walls and panels on which the names of the deaths are listed. Words of commemoration are written in French and English on each side of the entrance of the tower. The memorial was inaugurated on July 22 1938 by King George VI and his speech was directly broadcast in Australia. Among the other dignitaries present were the French President Albert Lebrun, who also delivered a speech, and the Australian Vice Prime Minister Earle Page.

This memorial was the last one of the big monuments to the fallen of the First World War to be built, and the Second World War began a little more than a year after its inauguration. It is now the site of an annual service for ANZAC Day, organized by the Australian Government. During the ceremony of inauguration, the King ended his speech with the words: ‘They rest in peace, while over them all Australia’s tower keeps watch and ward.’

It is a sad anniversary this year; it is 100 years since the first ANZAC soldiers arrived in Gallipoli, and then later here, on the Western Front, one year after Franz Ferdinand von Osterreich-Este, the Archduke of Austria fell victim to a criminal attack in Sarajevo, which started the war and which later led to millions of victims.

For the 59,300 Australian volunteers who died for our freedom, please, Lest We Forget.’

Our visit to the Australian National Memorial was a highlight for all in the band, bringing home the enormity of the Australian forces’ loss and the sheer number of men who have no known grave in the fields of France and Belgium. The absolute beauty of this memorial completely juxtaposes the purpose of its presence, and this visit will be something that we carry with us always. Bonnie described feelings of pride in representing our community as well as insignificance due to the sheer enormity of lives lost.

After two emotional and overwhelming days on the Western Front, we felt drained as we headed for Paris, the City of Light. As we traveled through a long tunnel coming in to Paris, Craig commented on all the beautiful lights, which of course were only the tail lights of vehicles ahead of us. Bonnie took the tour guide’s seat in the Blue Bus, making hilarious observations and honing her French skills with the bus driver Willy, who continued to mention the Viagra joke.

With all respect, other events from the past two days included:

  • Tom almost giving himself a heart attack when he entered his hotel room in Paris and upon seeing his own reflection in a mirror, started screaming and yelling.
  • Sharon had entered the bus toilet at the VC Corner memorial as the bus driver drove off to turn the bus around a few kilometres down the road. When she returned, laughing, there were many jokes about the ‘WC incident at the VC’.
  • The bass drum harness fell on Ray from the overhead luggage rack and Phil was heard to comment, ‘That’s why they call it the battlefield tour mate.’
  • Barney’s hat blew off at the Cobbers memorial and looked like it was going to land on the Cobber’s head. Gasps were audible during the silent service.
  • The backseat bandits, Karen, Shirley H, Bev and Jennie were negatively influenced by Jeff. No surprises there!
  • In stories of the St. Pancras Railway Station ‘stopover’, we heard that Vic had been upset with Alex for not buying her the £9,000 bottle of champagne that she had wanted, while Kim and Nelson were thrilled that they only had to press a button to order champagne at the Champagne Bar.
  • Ken was the designated phone charger man at St. Pancras – funny how we all need our mobile phone internationally even when WiFi doesn’t work and you’re stuck at a station for 9 hours.
  • Yes, the French kissing has started….. mostly thanks to Dave who loves the tradition of two kisses for each greeting.
  • The boys have been out already and purchased berets, which are turning up everywhere, mostly in Facebook posts.
  • Whilst mooing at the cows in the fields at Fromelles, Sue M provided strategies about mooing with the right accent – Le Moo.
  • The Mayor, Cr. Dale ‘Do-I-feel-like-a-pizza-or-a-baguette?’ Harriman has had his bling on!
  • And in good news, Rowena found her hole that she had lost in Manchester.

Special thanks goes to Neil Fitzclarence and Jacqui Ingram who moved all the luggage from the broken bus in Amiens upstairs and into hotel meeting room while the rest of us were playing at Villers-Brettoneux last night. This is possibly the reason that Neil was mistaken for a porter early this morning.

Well we are finally in Paris! Everyone is excited and ready to start exploring this amazing city. Tomorrow we have an incredible day lined up, so stay tuned…..

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The Western Front – Day 1

Now that we have the Pope, the Mayor and the Minister on board, we departed the hotel at 8am for what will no doubt be two very emotional days ahead. Today we commenced our solemn journey through the Western Front Battlefields of Northern France and Belgium.

We will be visiting three main areas across the Western Front:

  1. Ypres, Belgium, where The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing is dedicated to the British and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the Ypres Salient of WWI and whose graves are unknown. Each night at 8pm the traffic is stopped at the Menin Gate while the local Fire Brigade sound The Last Post in the roadway under the Memorial’s arches. This service has been held daily since 1927, except for the four years of German occupation during WW2. This area is just north of the France/Belgium border.
  2. The middle area, which includes Bullecourt, Arras, Fromelles, Aubers, VC Corner and Pheasant Wood. This area is south of Belgium but north of The Somme, and forms part of the northern border of France.
  3. The Somme – further south, but still in northern France, this area is known as Department 80 in France. It includes Pozieres, Amiens, Villers-Brettoneux, Thiepval and Mouquet Farm areas.

Mr. Mike Lee from the Canberra Brass Band in Australia is travelling with us and has been liaising with the band for months about tour arrangements. Mike organised similar tours in 2005 and 2014 with Eastern Australian Brass. His holiday in France coincided with our tour, thus he changed his plans to be with us for the solemn part of our journey. Our Battlefield Guides, Tim Wright and John Anderson are also travelling with us in two coaches; their knowledge of WWI is simply incredible.

We commenced the day with the world’s fastest return trip to Belgium – around 1.5 hours in total. Despite missing the Menin Gate service last night, it was important to the band that we make this trip as we had been trusted with placing poppies for around 20 relatives of Gippsland’s fallen soldiers in this area. Menin Gate is a stunning, imposing memorial, which forms the entrance arch coming into the township of Ypres. It serves as a roadway as well as an incredible memorial, bearing the names of soliders as high as you can see.   To the right is a stairway which leads to more stone memorial walls which list thousands more names as they wind up and around to the top exit. As the band gathered on the steps, Craig played The Last Post in a stirring and emotional tribute to our Australian soliders, in particular those with links to the Gippsland area. With hardly a dry eye, we then proceeded to locate the names of our nominated soldiers, and each band member was involved in photographing the tributes around the walls.

In what was an overwhelming start to our solemn journey, both Cr. Dale Harriman and Phil Medhurst laid wreaths at Menin Gate along with the local Deputy Mayor. We were also greeted by Mrs. Christine Meul-Devos who represented the Flemish Association of Music, Bands and Musicians, on behalf of a lady named Isabelle whom we had been liaising with and who had laid the wreaths for us at last night’s Menin Gate service.

After placing a poppy and copy of war medals for Private Joseph Edwin Kee, relative of Doug and Sheryl Caulfield (nee Kee) of Traralgon, we received a touching message which read, ‘Our profound gratitude seems totally inadequate. On behalf of our immediate and extended families, thank you so much for affording our relative the recognition he, and his comrades so rightfully deserve. God bless you all.’ Thank you Doug and Sheryl for allowing us to share these humble sentiments.

After returning to our coaches alongside the beautiful canal at Menin Gate following our service, it became quickly apparent that one of the coaches would not start. Most people were asked to alight the coach and push from behind, with the bus engine starting to the sound of whoops and cheers from band members and supporters.

We next visited the Pheasant Wood Military Cemetery in Fromelles; a significant memorial bearing the grave of our President, Phil Medhurst’s Great Uncle Private Thomas Cosgriff. On a windy hill overlooking miles of lush farmland, the band played a solemn service to Private Cosgriff and the other soldiers who are remembered in this beautiful, manicured cemetery. Between 2007 – 2009, around 250 Australian soldiers were located, exhumed and identified adjacent to the nearby Pheasant Wood. Five unmarked mass graves had been made by the Germans during the war, each containing around 50 soldiers. Phil played The Last Post at the gravesite of his Great Uncle in what would have been a proud, overwhelming and emotional moment. We then played Advance Australia Fair and Waltzing Matilda before walking across the road to the site of the original burials at the southern edge of the Wood.

At V.C. Corner Australian Cemetery and Memorial we performed another touching service and laid poppies in memory of over 400 Australian soldiers buried here, and the 1,299 Australians listed as having no known grave, but all of whom died in The Battle of Fromelles on 19-20 July 1916. Looking to the right of the memorial, we contemplated the land aptly known as ‘No Man’s Land’ which lies between the Australian and German trenches of July 1916. When the remains here were found on 11 November 1918, the official historian of WWI and discoverer of the remains, Charles Bean, noted: ‘We found the old no-man’s-land simply full of our dead….west of the Laies River…..the skulls and bones and torn uniforms were lying about everywhere.’ We also walked along the road beside this land to visit the ‘Cobbers’ memorial at Australian Memorial Park, which depicts Sargent Simon Fraser of the 58th Battalion carrying in a wounded soldier on his back after hearing him call out, ‘Don’t forget me, cobber.’ This statue commemorates the Australians who fought and died during the attack at the Battle of Fromelles and it is situated on the German defensive line. It is not the memory of the military disaster of Fromelles that is remembered here, but rather the courage and compassion of those who risked their lives to help the wounded. At VC Corner we reflected on the vibrant red poppies that are starting to flower in the fields and along the roadsides, symbolic of the devastated battlefields and blood that was shed in the fields of northern France and Belgium in the First World War.

It was at VC Corner that we met a lovely Australian lady, Deborah Gower, who is a potter from Mullumbimby in Australia. She is currently completing an ‘Artist in Residence’ stay in the area and she had heard of our visit from locals who had been invited to meet with us in Fromelles. Deborah provided a cross for the children in the band to write on, and she offered to take it back to the grave of Private Thomas Cosgriff for us. She had also made seven small clay crosses for us to inscribe before being fired and taken to a nearby school. Thank you Deborah for your kindness and interest in our journey.

As we departed VC Corner, our coach that had been push started earlier slowly started to fall apart. The electrics were failing, leaving people stuck in the bus toilet in the dark (Roger!!), a high-pitched alarm was stuck on, our hazard lights were on, the bus was only moving at walking pace, and to our dismay, the front door kept flying open and we almost lost our Battlefields Tour Guide, Tim (what a shame it would have been to lose his knowledge out the bus door!) Craig sang in tune to the alarm, Ali played her trombone, and the rest of us just laughed. Craig also chirped in that we needed the RACFrance. We presume that the words coming from the bus driver were French swear words. We eventually came to a stop on a little side road as our driver made some frantic calls to his bus company. Meanwhile, our guides decided to put everyone on to one coach, which meant transferring luggage from one coach to the other so that instruments and people would fit on. Around 30 people were moving luggage, instruments and swapping things around on a small, narrow road between towns, in a scene that must have resembled a National Lampoon’s vacation. Due to insufficient bus seats we had to leave Riawena, Elsie, Kathy, Jacqui and Neil in the dud-bus as we drove off to the hilarious sound of a cornet fanfare.

So far, our planes, trains and automobiles have all failed us. We are just lucky we didn’t go on the ferry from Dover to Calais after all!!

Our one bus-load continued on to the peaceful Bullecourt Australian Memorial Park with its statue of the bronze ‘Bullecourt Digger’. According to Australian Remembrance Trail information, this statue gazes out over the fields of Bullecourt where in April and May 1917, the AIF lost 10,000 soldiers, killed or wounded, in their efforts to break into and hold part of the Hindenburg Line. Here, our supporter Ray Jago from the Sale Brass Band played The Last Post just beautifully, with the wind stirring the flags above and birds chirping in the trees. Cr. Dale Harriman and Phil laid a wreath and we played a number of hymns and anthems. We then drove into town and performed another service at the Bullecourt Slouch Hat Memorial, where the distinctively Australian emblem of a bronze slouch hat is displayed on a stone memorial. In a proud moment for his parents and the band, young Lachlan Wilson played The Last Post at this site to the applause of his banding family.

After departing Bullecourt we received news that a new battery for the broken-down bus would only be around 15 minutes away, so we were hoping that our deserted crew were doing okay without much food or water.

Many band members slept on the journey into Amiens, where we quickly checked into our hotel and then re-boarded the bus again within 40 minutes to head to our Civic Reception and concert with the Amiens Brass Band at Villers-Bretonneux. We met with our lost band members and new bus at an amazing town hall with high ceilings and live acoustics and had a brief massed-bands practise before enjoying a lovely smorgasboard dinner with the two bands and supporters. The Amiens Brass Band opened the concert with a moving rendition of, ‘I am Australian’ with players standing down the sides of the hall alongside the audience, and this, of course, was accompanied by proud singing, some tears and a standing ovation from our band members. Amiens Band performed an excellent concert program with brilliant playing. Their conductor, Mr. Eric Brisse is a world-class French horn player and he also plays tenor horn. The band traveled to Australia to compete in the Nationals around 4-5 years ago. In the second half of the program, our band performed a highly entertaining and mixed repertoire to a thrilled crowd, who supported us with many standing ovations and lots of clapping. The sound within the hall was incredible. And loud! Somehow our band always manages to rise to the challenge in an exceptional way.

Towards the end of the concert we listened to emotional and grateful speeches from the official parties, including the Mayor of Villers-Bretonneux, Dr. Patrick Simon, and the Mayor of Latrobe City, Cr. Dale Harriman, and many meaningful and precious gifts were exchanged between bands, communities and countries. We arrived back at the hotel at around midnight, exhausted after an emotional day and exhilarating concert with a wonderful group of musicians.

**Apologies for the delay in posts. We have been extremely busy with little rest and poor Wi-Fi until Paris. I am trying my best to catch you up on our news :0)  More photos will be inserted into posts when possible, so please keep checking back.

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Manchester to Lille (eventually)

Welcome to Summer (or Coming-into-Winter as we have re-named it). We were all awake bright and early today to pack the buses at 3.30am and depart the Manchester Novotel by 4am. We were given a packed breakfast in a brown paper bag but most just wanted to clamber on the bus and quickly resume their slumber. Our trip to London took around four and a half hours, and apart from the broken air conditioner, which led to an over-heated cabin, we had a good journey.

After arriving at St. Pancras International Railway Station, London, at around 8.45am, we were given tickets for our Eurostar train, which was scheduled for a 10.58am departure. A highlight of the morning was meeting with our Latrobe City Mayor, Cr. Dale Harriman, as well as Sharon Olivier, who played baritone in the band for many years until moving to Melbourne for university studies. Both Dale and Sharon have now joined the band for the France leg of the tour.

After lining up in international departures for over 90 minutes, an announcement was made that all departures had been suspended due to a fatality on the tracks, further down the line. One hour turned in to two hours until the scheduled morning train departures were eventually cancelled. Meanwhile, the departure area was filling with hundreds of passengers, all unsure how long it would take for services to recommence or indeed whether they would be able to get tickets for onward travel at all. Behind the scenes, Jacqui Ingram (our travel agent) and Alan had set themselves up in the business centre of the Renaissance Hotel, St. Pancras, and were frantically making phone calls to try to reschedule almost 60 people to get to France. Today. Options included: train to Dover followed by a ferry across the English Channel and then coach to Lille; direct flights from smaller airports; or an overnight stay in London followed by a morning Eurostar departure.

As per our itinerary, we had an incredibly busy afternoon scheduled in France and Belgium, and as time passed, it seemed less and less likely that we would make those commitments. We were to arrive in Lille (northern France) via the fast Eurostar train at around 1.30pm local time and then transfer to two coaches that would take us north into Belgium for a concert and street march in Ypres, commencing at 4pm. We had then planned to stay at Menin Gate, Ypres for the nightly Last Post service, which has run every single day since 1927, apart from the four years of German occupation during WW2.

In the railway station, our large group had split up into smaller groups, making it easier for people to move around and find cafes and amenities. The station was gradually filling with thousands of people, all stranded due to the halt to services. The Medhursts and Mayor decided it was time to visit Kings Cross Station nearby to see Harry Potter’s Plaform 9¾. I don’t know who was more excited: the mayor or Lee Medhurst, but according to Phil, when the Mayor invites you to Platform 9¾, you can’t say no!

Others at the station had found an array of resting places: bars, cafes, restaurants and shops. By 12.30pm we decided that it was time to start half-hourly transit group leader meetings to check on progress and keep everyone updated as we were all spread throughout the incredibly busy station. Jacqui continued to work non-stop behind the scenes to secure a transport method that would see us in France by night-time. Of course there were a thousand other issues to consider also: the coach company that was scheduled to meet us in Lille, the Battlefield Guides who were also due to meet us, the Australian assistant and guide (Mike Lee), the trip to Ypres and the concert and service at Menin Gate, the ‘Man and a Van’ who had taken all our instruments and half the cases to meet us in Menin Gate, the possible change in accommodation, the possible coach hire to get us to Dover before 6pm, the ferry tickets for a group booking of almost 60, the coach that would then have to meet us in Calais. The list went on. And Jacqui had it all covered. Just as she was about to pay for coach and ferry tickets, we heard an announcement that the afternoon trains were running again, thus alternate plans were put on hold whilst she tried to make a group booking through Eurostar again. Eventually we had the wonderful news that we were scheduled on the 5.04pm Eurostar to Lille. Then began Jacqui’s cancellations of all the possible alternate options. Group meetings continued, and eventually everyone’s boarding passes were re-issued and we were able to sit and relax for a moment.

Robbie continued to sleep on the floor on the upper level of the railway station, opposite the Champagne Bar (which of course Debbie and Co. had earlier located), unknowingly hosting a ‘Homeless – please leave coins’ sign that the others had placed alongside him as he slept. We were all in fits as everyone took photographs of the self-damaged sleepy boy. Others played cards for hours at their tables (a big thanks to Monique and Tom who taught the young Wilson children how to play), Jennie’s bag was broken into (luckily nothing was taken), Sue Hill found the world’s best staircase, Nelson was thrilled with his hipster chorizo and kale soup, Brad and Barney discovered that they can drink in public in the UK, the pink transit group found seats in a fantastic café and perched there for hours, drinking lots of tea, Chloe bought a colouring book, and everyone just waited. And waited. And waited.

Prior to eventually joining the mile-long boarding queue, Alex took his children to the bathroom to be greeted by an Aussie voice saying, ‘Hey, you’re not supposed to be here!’ It was Ashley Proctor, one of our cornet players and his family, who had arrived from Heathrow Airport to board the 5.04pm train to Lille also. Ashley had had commitments with work and had planned to arrive in Lille to meet with us after we returned from the Menin Gate evening service.

Our 5.04pm train eventually departed at around 6.30pm to the sound of cheering and the sighs of great relief. After more than 9 hours at a railway station we were thrilled to be heading to France. Gone were our plans of an evening visit to Menin Gate, but it looked promising that we would be able to visit this important venue early in the morning. Many slept and missed the whole English Channel Tunnel, while others finished the card games they had started in the London railway station throughout the day. We arrived to the friendly smiles of our Battlefield Guides who had been waiting all afternoon for us, and were immediately taken to our hotel at around 9pm, where a lovely 3-course meal was awaiting us. Despite the unexpected change of plans, most traveled well and took it all in their stride, before collapsing into bed exhausted.

York Shenanigans

Today’s adventures took us to 2000-year old York. This city was incredible; rich in history dating back to The Romans, The Saxons and The Vikings. York is renowned as an archaeological treasure trove and boasts the most intricate medieval architecture.

We had planned to play as a band in York, alongside the impressive Minster, however our plans unfortunately fell through due to morning and afternoon commitments at the Minster. This would have been the most beautiful setting for an afternoon playout. Here are some of the things we got up to instead……..

Bonnie, Robbie, Dave and Barney enjoyed a private boat ride along the river and Robbie then participated in throwing axes at a street performer who was blindfolded on a unicycle. Nice work Rob; an important life skill.

The Ghost Hunters (Row, Leon, Brandon, Daryl, Sue, Alan, Debbie & Karen) dined at the 600-year old Black Swan Inn in York; an old Inn that is said to be visited by a number of ghosts including a man who appears to be waiting for someone, a woman in a long white dress staring at the fire place, and rather disconcertingly, a pair of man’s legs seen wandering around the staff quarters and descending the staircase. Karen tried out the 4-poster bed here, and all were fascinated by the secret tunnel leading from the bedroom towards the church.

Wally the Wall Climber and crew took in all the sights from up high on the wall and then shopped until Wally dropped. Phil and Lee enjoyed wandering the beautiful streets of York and then had a proper wine with some proper Yorkshiremen who made Yorkshire puddings so big that you had to climb into the oven to eat them. Phil burnt all his hair off. Chloe and Brenda enjoyed their Yorkshire pudding on the coach and laughed about seeing ‘Kinky Donuts’. They had visited the National Railway Museum and taken a ride on the railway bus.

Jeff and many others were hissed at by geese. As Nicole comically noted in her FB post, ‘Spent the day in York! What a cute little town. So much shopping, and food shops everywhere. And geese!  And geese poop. Everywhere.’ William went to visit Clifford in his Tower (meanwhile Lee had almost fallen from Clifford’s wall) and then visited the market in the Shambles. He also visited the National Railway Museum and got hissed at by geese. Rog and Shirley visited Clifford and got hissed at by geese and then enjoyed walking along the wall before getting lost in the Shambles.

Jacqui Ingram visited the train museum, the Viking Museum and the many shops, and thought that the hop-on, hop-off bus was just awesome. Jacqui overheard some Americans commenting that, ‘Jeeps would be better to ‘do the streets’ in rather than BMWs, minis and Bentleys.’ Overrated. I’d vote for a bicycle. Bec and Gabi strolled through the Shambles and enjoyed the craft shop ‘The Ramshambles’, the teddy bear shop, the antique book stores, the Castle Museum and the ‘Monk Bar Chocolatiers of York’. Gabi was mistaken for a local and was asked for directions.

Kim and Nelson enjoyed game pie (probably the aforementioned annoying geese) and spent time in the lovely wool shop. They also listened to the Minster organist play almost as well as Woodsy back at home. Nelson was seen celeb-spotting for ‘Songs of Praise’ stars. He loves ‘Songs of Praise’. How exciting to be in York on a Sunday Nels.

Jennie and Neil visited the ‘Yorkshire Air Museum’, which was one of a number of WW2 RAF bases that Australian aircrew flew out of in heavy bombers. The Australian aircrews were working within the English squadrons. Many airmen were killed in these battles in Europe. The museum provided lots of information about the Australians, the Free-French, the English and the Canadians, and the background music of wartime tunes provided a nostalgic and haunting atmosphere. Whilst being driven around by friendly taxi-driver Phil, they also spotted some molehills.

Grannymum, Kathy and Kerrie enjoyed a ride on the beautiful carousel and had ice-cream (which Brad and Kerrie, sick of being adults, shoved in each others’ faces), and then their family met up with granddaughter/niece Adelaide who is working in an English boarding school for 12 months. Brad and Kathy reported that the Newgate Coffee Bar serves the best coffee in England. Kez and Jez walked along the wall and particularly enjoyed looking in to the beautiful backyards below.

Monique and Tom loved the York music store and Ali bought a new hat (apparently you can leave it on Ali). Phil’s shoes fell apart after 20 years so he had to buy a new pair, and many of us were almost shot by a Storm Trooper in the street. Alex, Lachlan and Heath found a lovely venue and listened to a jazz trio, and then Heath and Lachy found some self-cleaning toilets. Wow. Lachlan purchased a mini London taxi and a mini Mini Cooper and a cool pencil with the Union Jack on it. Alex and the boys were later found heading for the corch in the wrong direction and then had to pay 40p to use the carpark loos.

Barb, Terry, Harry, Elsie and Tracy visited Betty’s famous Teahouse and enjoyed a scrumptious morning tea in celebration of Barb and Terry’s 50th wedding anniversary (celebrations have now been going for 3 days.) They then took a ride on the hop-on, hop-off bus and listened to the tour guide tell the fascinating history of York. A quick stroll through the Shambles led to Barb having heart palpitations when she spotted an amazing wool store, and Terry having heart palpitations when he realized that Barb might be lost in the store forever. This crew also searched for the Grand Old Duke, to no avail.

Bev told a man in York that she was cold and he offered her a cuddle (gotta keep a twinkle in your wrinkle, Bev) and then met some people from the Bristol Band who had watched us in the Whit Friday comps and thought we were great. Deb was worried about getting Alan and her own tour jackets muddled up, until Bonnie reminded her that our names are embroidered on the left breast of the jackets. Others kept warm in the many coffee and tea shops and bars throughout this beautiful city.

The long coach trip back to Manchester gave us an opportunity to reflect on some more famous quotes and incidents from our travels, all innocent of course:

  • ‘Have we got time for a quickie, do you think?’ (Hilly to Barney, regarding an intended puff of fresh air outside).
  • Karen: ‘It’s going down Roger. It’s very limp.’ Roger: ‘It always does that.’ (Referring to the blow-up Aussie boppers used by supporters on Whit Friday).
  • ‘This is a corch, not a boos.’ (Ryan, one of our corch drivers to and from London).
  • ‘We haven’t packed the timpanis. Oh wait, it’s a march.’ (Good work, Tom).
  • ‘Tracy, you’ve got nice headlights.’ (Sue Hill, referring to Tracy’s lyre lights for night marching).
  • Bonnie: ‘Mine’s hotter than yours.’ Jacqui: ‘Oh, but I’ve been playing with mine a fair bit so it’s cooled down.’ (Referring to our life-saving pocket hand warmers).
  • ‘How do they know Waltzing Matilda?’ (Overheard at Whit Friday).
  • ‘Are they from South Africa? Oh, I thought they were from NZ.’ (Also overheard at Whit Friday).
  • ‘Riawena’s lip gloss has gone in her hole and you can feel it but you can’t get it out. I even tried tipping it upside down.’ (Remove foot from mouth, Leon).
  • Craig: ‘Do you want to sit on that pole Sue?’ (Referring to an awkwardly placed pole near their dinner table). Upon telling this story to Tom, he then asked, ‘Did Tracy get hold of it?’, meaning of course, had I heard of the story for the blog yet.
  • ‘Oh please, I’m eating…..’ (Niki Alexander’s response when hearing of her grandfather’s silver-haired fox stud stories.
  • Leon and Craig also created havoc when they offered to play their [impersonated] didgeridoos for the ladies at Pemberton Band and the ladies were skeptical about where the didgeridoos might have been hidden. Many strange looks were exchanged in fear that something rude might be about to happen. When they heard the boys’ impersonations they were impressed and walked away practising.

Upon arrival back in Manchester, we had a van waiting to collect all instruments and half of the cases to take them straight through to France. Alan provided the good and bad news – tomorrow we are going to France and Belgium, but the bad news: we will be packing the corch at 3.30am for a 4am departure. Noice. Early to bed for most.

In exciting news, we have made 92 new friends on Facebook this week. We have also had almost one thousands visitors to our blog. Thank you everyone! Apologies for the delay in these posts – our Wi-Fi access has been incredibly poor over the past few days.

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