Connecting Spirits 2012 – at the frontline

Australians in the First World War

Anzac Day in Villers Bretenneux Maddy and Molly

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Maddy: Molly and I went to bed at about 11pm on Tuesday night. We had stayed up a little too late reading the status updates at home of the people who had got up to watch the dawn service in our sleepy little towns.
We set our alarms for 2am and were out the door by 2:45am. We were going in a coach of other Australians who were coming to the end of their battlefields tour. Although it was early, I was very eager to be talking to some fellow Aussies who had been through much the same thing as we had only a week earlier.
We arrived at Villers-Bretenneux and the atmosphere was buzzing with a mixture of excitement and sorrow as people began to remember the reason they were all there. A massive sense of Australian pride washed over me as I looked around and saw just how many Australians had come this far to be in the place where 48,000 Australians had died fighting to defend.
As everyone kept filling in and beginning to settle into the freezing cold morning, I looked over to my right where my great great uncle Clarence Herbert Dakin’s name sat lordly on the wall. A tear slid silently down my face. He is the reason I was there. Although he was only one in thousands, he was my uncle and he was who I would be thinking of on this day.
I imagined how he would have felt seeing all these people turn up here on their own free will, just to remember the sacrifice that was made by him and his mates 98 years ago to the day. All I could think seeing all those people was “you did this. Without your sacrifice, none of this would have been the way it is today. Thank you!”
And I only hope he knows just how much I mean it.

Molly: The service began at five thirty with a school band from WA playing all the well known Aussie anthems and songs from WW1. Everywhere we looked there were people from the Australian cadets, police, defence force, government and just Aussie civilians like us. It was such a huge event that I became so caught up in the size of it all I didn’t feel the same emotional connections I have when sharing stories with our Connecting Spirits group or back home participating in the McLaren Vale service. Everything was so formal and done so properly. It wasn’t until the end of the service when the public were invited to come and lay wreaths for their relatives that I could grasp the meaning of the situation. So many people walked past us to the front if the memorial, forming big lines with their tributes and wreaths. They were from all over Australia and New Zealand, some young, some old but all here to remember the story of their single relative, their soldier. Then looking around us at the thousands of Aussies still seated who were also here for their special soldier I felt how massive the impact on Australian families must have been if that pain and loss still resonates this strongly almost 100 years later. It’s obvious from these services and moments that we know the impact of war and that we all agree war causes such horrible loss. I’ve managed to get my head around that, to start to understand the enormity of it all but what I can’t understand is why we still continue to send men and women out to war. Why we still invent new ways to hurt people and destroy things every year. That is something I’ll never get my head around.
Lest we Forget.

Written by Allison Russell

April 28, 2012 at 11:15 pm

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Anzac Day at Sutton Veny – Julie

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This will be the final entry for the wordpress blog from me as today (Anzac Day 2012) sees the end of this commemorative journey for me for 2012. And what a way to end this most special of tours….here in the English village of Sutton Veny set on the Salisbury Plains where its military tradition still lives on in the training camps up the road for the British Army today.   This is the place where many Australian and other members of the Commonwealth came during and after WW1 to train, wait for their posting to the front, to be tended by the medical staff when they were seriously injured and of course sadly for many, to die. It was the place where my great uncles Martin and Vin Neagle were first placed on their arrival to England on September 30th 1916. I have Marty’s lettercard to my grandfather with the iconic images we associate with this region…..Stonehenge, Salisbury Cathedral, the White horse of Westbury and the village of Codford where their camp was situated….6 miles up the road from Sutton Veny. It was the place where Vin came back to after his second lot of injury in 1918 several months after losing his beloved big brother Mart. Sutton Veny Base hospital is featured on Vin’s casualty service record .

So to be here on Anzac day for me is layered with memories, emotions and an acute sense of family and place. To be brutally honest …there is no other place on earth I would want to be on April 25….this is what Sutton Veny has come to mean to me. I have been at Anzac Cove for the Dawn Service in 2002, Villers- Bretonneux Dawn Service 2007 and 2011….each one a special moment and experience……but this little village and its children who take their role of commemorating OUR ancestors is truly unique. It has nothing to do with self importance or being the most significant visitor or having the biggest wreath……seen all that before….it is about imbuing in the next generation of children something this small community sees as important. Sutton Veny School under the passionate guidance of my mate Nicky Barnard, puts together a service where EVERY child in the school takes part and where each class participates in a unique way.

The day doesn’t just happen with adults telling kids what to do….the teachers here prepare their classes for weeks in the lead up to the service by working on some particular aspect their class will present in the service….this might be reading poems they have written, telling the story of what happened to the village when 30,000 Australian troops landed n their doorstep virtually overnight or narrating what Anzac means to three Aussie kids who are enrolled in the school. Each year they do something different but the tradition that is maintained is that of the laying of the flowers. Since around 1916 or 1917 kids from the village placed flowers on the graves of the Aussies around Anzac day and each posy had three components: the flowers of the village + laurel leaves for victory + rosemary for remembrance. Now as these little bundles of commemoration are made by the year 6 kids and they are taught the significance of each element just as Nicky did today. Then to complete the process each posy is tagged with a card penning a message of commemoration from the children of Sutton Veny. Following the service where each class does its own presentation, the children lead the congregation out into the cemetery where every child stands behind the grave of an Australian and then unison place their posy next to the headstone. As I write this first part of the report the weather here today has been putrid and Nicky is stressing that the outdoor part of the service will have to take place in the chapel. However there is still  an hour and a half to go and I feel that the sun WILL shine…..the diggers will make sure of it Nicky. They will be with us.


Well the weather gods were not on our side today…miserable, putrid wet conditions. So the lovely tradition of the children leading the congregation outside to lay the posies didn’t happen. However the whole ceremony was so moving anyway, that in the end the central purpose was not diminished in any way shape or form. The collective effort that goes into these services is truly amazing. Each child took their role so seriously and to be there as an Australian on April 25, was such a privilege. Each class did their bit and all three national anthems (England/ NZ and Australia) were sung along with a traditional NZ song done in Maori language by the school choir. If I hadn’t lost it by then, well it was gone for all money after that. A couple of highlights….the disciplined way every child held silent attention……the story of Nurse Walker and then having Molly Flanagan’s research acknowledged…….the  Aussie kids there with their own personal  declarations of what it means to them and overall the meticulous attention to detail to ensure that everyone knew why April 25 is special.

And after it was all over the Year 6 class went out into the rain and placed their beautiful posies on all of the graves. I felt so lucky to be here today and I hope that this is the first of many Anzac Days in Sutton Veny. Thank you.

Written by Allison Russell

April 25, 2012 at 10:03 pm

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Anzac Day in Cambridge – Ashleigh, Nicole, Jill and Allison

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As there wasn’t a service in Cambridge, we decided that we’d meet up for lunch and share our stories of the trip; the Menin Gate ceremony was a highlight for us all.

Ashleigh and Nicole brought home-made Anzac biscuits they’d supervised yesterday – so we were only a step away from reminiscing about the great food we got from Jackie on the trip.

It was great to see the FB posts from McLaren Vale – sorry we can’t be with you!

Written by Allison Russell

April 25, 2012 at 1:09 pm

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Anzac Day at McLaren Vale – Evangeline

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At ANZAC today, the girls who came home straight after the trip attended the McLaren Vale Dawn Service where Molly Sandercock sang the national anthem again, just like at the Menin Gate Ceremony. We all went back to the McLaren Vale RSL to help with their breakfast fundraiser and have some breakfast. We also got all our items from the war fields back from Bryan and I took photos of people in uniform to incorporate into my photography assignment. I came home and tried to do home work but instead watched the Villers Bret service and thought about how Molly and Maddy would be there right now. It was a lovely service and a great day!

Written by Allison Russell

April 25, 2012 at 6:12 am

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(not really) the last post

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Thank you to everyone who has followed out blog, and especially those who have taken the time to contribute to the conversation with comments. Thanks too, to Pauline for alerting me to the letters of Murray Fowler. If you haven’t clicked on the link to Flickr on the right of the screen, there are 100s of photos that Jill has put up, which show what we have really been up to.

Ashleigh and Maddy - a final Victory Dance - check!

The Connecting Spirits tour has now concluded, and we have gone our separate ways – Mollie, Evangeline, Frankie, Nikki, Michelle, Brian and Coralie are on their way back to Australia; Nicole, Ashley, Jill, Julie and I are in various places in the UK, while Molly and Maddy are still in France.

It was sad to say goodbye, but we have all learned so much, and had such a wonderful experience. Thanks to Julie, Rod and Richard for giving us such a memorable tour.

It is sad, too, to say good bye to Murray, who was once described as another member of the tour group. I have updated his biography so you can see a little of what he did after the war. His war service record is also available from the National Archives of Australia, for people who would like to have a look.

There will still be a few extra posts to fill in some gaps, and some of the group will be sharing their Anzac Day experiences, as well, so it’s not really the last post…

Written by Allison Russell

April 19, 2012 at 6:49 pm

‘the last to leave’

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Armistice celebrations at Adelaide oval
image courtesy Australian War Memorial

But as Murray explains demobilisation will take quite some time, and he expects it to be 12 months before he will be home. As he explains, Battalion administrators still have a great deal of work to complete.

Finally, though, he departs for Australia in May 1919.



Dear Uncle Fred

I know what you are thinking so you needn’t worry about telling me off. I really should have written as soon as the armistice was signed but unfortunately we’ve been on the move since the 10th November…

They kindly informed us …that irrespective of the date of departure from Australia, the Bn staffs will be the last to leave, so yours truly has another 12 months to look forward to.


image courtesy Australian War Memorial


My dearest Mother

I don’t know about you at home, but for my part, I can’t realise that I’ve finished with fighting and will be coming home. It seems like a glorious dream to me…

The repatriation and demobilisation is getting well on the way now, but owing to the way they’ve run things I’m not available to go home for another 12 months. All Bn staffs have to remain behind till the very last to wind up records equipment etc…


Souvenir program for a concert held to entertain troops returning to Australia after the First World War. This program is for a performance by the Napierrots Concert Party aboard HMAT Port Napier at 7pm on 19 June 1919
image courtesy Australian War Memorial

“Port Napier”
May 11th 1919

Dear Uncle Fred

As I promised to, here I am writing you a last note to let you know definitely that I am at last going home. I am at present on board the boat we’re sailing in…They anticipate the trip will take between 6 & 7 weeks.

I have only one objection and that is, that at present I’m O.C. Troops on the trip out but don’t know defiantly whether the appointment will hold or not. It all depends on a certain Colonel & whether he will turn up in time or not… However, my objection is this, should I be in command, I will have to continue the journey through to Sydney, our last port of call, before handing over records, balance of cash, canteen funds, balance of stores. Not only will I have to do the journey but in addition I will not be able to get off at Adelaide and see all the home folk. Can you imagine my feelings steaming into Outer Harbour and steaming out again the same day, after being away for four years? The mere thought of it makes me want to be a private.






A huge crowd at Parliament House for the Declaration of the Signing of the Armistice.
image courtesy Australian War Memorial

Written by Allison Russell

April 19, 2012 at 1:00 am


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Monday 16 April 2012 – written by Maddy

Today we travelled from Ypres, Belgium, to Paris! All the girls were excited about this part of the trip and were especially eager to see the famous Eiffel Tower in the City of Love! (Well, one of them, anyway!)

We hit the road at 9.15 and travelled all morning until we stopped for snacks at a big convenience store/On the Run. At this point we were approximately an hour and a half out of Paris. So we were all getting extra enthusiastic. We went on like this until we got our first glimpses of the Tower from the bus window. We were still very far away so it didn’t look so inspiring, but as we got closer, we could not see the entire thing out of the coach! Our first full view of this monument was when we stopped for lunch at the river, directly in front (or behind!) the Tower. From this position it was easy to see why people travelled across the world to see it.

We then took a river cruise which took longer than expected after having some ticket troubles due to communication and translation difficulties. Once we were on, it was a lovely view of the city and well worth experiencing.

Richard then showed us a few key parts of Paris before we got to our hotel. Although it wasn’t that much of a long day, I think we were all happy to get to our rooms and prepare for the coming days braving Paris!

Mollie, Frankie and I did just this by watching a few YouTube videos on the art of pick pocketing.

Paris, come at me, Bro!

Written by Allison Russell

April 18, 2012 at 3:14 pm


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