ANZAC day in France
Category : Seeing the World
We’ve been away, and for some of that time I had a dead phone battery and the handy dandy cable to hook the camera up to the computer… which is a fat lot of good for charging my phone. Hence the radio silence. But this is what we’ve been up to:
On Wednesday night we skipped town after an early dinner and drove north to Saint Quentin (pron. cinquante un, sort of.)
After a very short night’s sleep (but a lot more than our friends on the beach at Gallipoli) we roused the kids, bundled them in the car and drove to Fouilloy, found a car park (over a curb… the french are rubbing off on us) and then loaded up the kids in pushchair/sling and marched ourselves up the hill to the Australian Memorial, where an ANZAC dawn service would be held.
It was dark, solemn, heavy with anticipation and a sense of camaraderie. The seats were filling up (this was the first time I’ve ever seen seats at a dawn service, so that was nice) and the pre-service program was playing something appropriate, and the next minute Waltzing-bloody-Matilda! And no one laughed. And then I realised, it was all Aussies. Well, not all aussies. There were frenchies and brits and maybe a few other kiwis, but it was very much an Australian service. The NZ bit of ANZAC was about as acknowledged as the A bit ever is in a NZ service, if I’m honest: ie. not a lot. But that’s fine.
Elena slept and Louis didn’t, standing on Luuk’s knees and watching the big screen and occasionally making inappropriate noises, but all was forgiven by our friendly neighbours. The whole thing is televised every year on Australian TV and the people sitting in front of us had watched it every year, then last year decided they’d go.
Elena woke up toward the end, so she didn’t miss all of her very first ANZAC day dawn service, and on her first ANZAC day as well. Good work, baby girl.
They doled out hot coffee and baby-pain au chocolat, which was very much appreciated, and then we walked back to the car (around 2kms away) and went searching for breakfast. We found a hotel in Amiens serving up an excellent buffet and we snuck the kids food off our plates before letting them loose on the curtains…
We kept a loose eye on them, drank our deuxième tasses de café, and hoped the lethargy would lift. It was barely nine in the morning, we’d been up for nearly six hours, walked five kms and were feeling it.
(Again, this is baby-pool stuff compared to the stoic folks who do this in Turkey, hiking 4 or 5 times the distance we walked and on much rougher terrain, sleeping on the beach… really not something I can imagine doing with kids.)
We went for a walk around Amiens, and soon found the famous Cathedral, a world heritage site, and quite a sight –
It struck me as similar to Notre Dame à Paris, from the front, but quite different on closer inspection. This is the largest French cathedral (in square footage) and also the tallest completed cathedral in France.
And they even have a hedgehog. Quite a few animals, in fact, are etched into the stone in the archways over the doors.
Louis is getting pretty cool at walking around big churches without yelling at random, just for the echo or the reaction, or something… The view was pretty speech-defying though. All that stained glass and endless ceilings and arches and stone. Architectural marvels, and invested with so much meaning – telling so many stories in the art and design, and more overtly the plaques:
There we are again; the kiwi boys did there bit.
And there’s the organ. And the endless ceiling – Over 42 meters at the top of the stone vaulted nave. Built without cranes. Yikes.
We drove to Albert next, a nearby town with a museum all about trenches, and as soon as we got in the car the kids promptly fell asleep. It was too good a prospect to resist, so I joined them. And lovely Luuk let us all doze for a while.
He was good enough to take photos. But he also wandered over the road and took a pic of the basilica with the awesome mosaics. I have adored mosaics ever since I helped create one a couple of years ago. Ours was a little different, but it did have a Jesus-face, so there are similarities.
Want cool mosaics, among other things, go to the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Brebières in Albert.
We woke ourselves up and went to the trench museum, which is built in an old tunnel, 250ms long and a few meters underground (only a little claustraphobic, nothing to the towers of sacre coeur).
This wasn’t a trench, but as a museum it is about trench warfare and life in the trenches. The tunnel is quite a bit older than the wars of the 20th century, but was used during those wars for hiding people and things. In the first world war the entire town, except the post office, was destroyed. This region was so utterly transformed by the first and second world wars. The mind boggles.
The museum lead us out through a shop (as always, mais bien sûr) and then into this gorgeous park by a river, with a play ground and a band rotunda. So we scouted out some sandwiches and pastries, and had ourselves an impromptu picnic.
The handy dandy sit’n’sling was magically transformed into a picnic blanket, though god knows why I bothered. These two got themselves utterly filthy between the pastries and the dirt.
Luuk and Louis did their thing and a little later Elena tried to join in (but first things first: fresh croissant). May as well be dinner and a show sometimes.
There were a few animals around the place: goats, chickens, ponies, etc. A mini farm sort of thing, very common in French parks. The gates keep the animals in, but of course they’re perfect for holding Elena up too. She’s getting quite eager on her feet but good hand-holds are still essential.
Before heading back to our hotel room to crash we went in search of the NZ memorial. They’re dotted all over the farms throughout this area of the Somme and we stumbled across the South African one as well as a cemetery where some of the NZ soldiers are buried, before we found this. It’s just outside of Longueval.
It’s on a rise and from here you can see all across the fields and farms, to several other towns. It feels like it stands out but we had some trouble finding it. If you ever go looking, drive north from Longueval on Rue du Calvaire.
So that was ANZAC day, 2013. It seemed very perspective-giving: little people in a big crowd, little NZ in a big world. All this commemorates such a small but significant part of history, utterly changing the lives of people in France, where the towns were all but demolished, where families fled or were killed, and in WW2 were even occupied by German forces. These events had a huge impact on NZ’s nationhood, as well as on pretty much every family, with such a huge portion of the population fighting, especially in WW1.
On the NZ memorial it says, FROM THE UTMOST ENDS OF THE EARTH, which is pretty accurate. We are a long way from home here, but those soldiers stood on the same soil and were really so much further away.