Today we say Goodbye to London and make our way to the Salisbury Plain area where many of the Australian soldiers who served time in World War 1 spent time training or recovering. After the war was over they stayed in this area until it was their turn to return home to England.
Our first stop of the day was just outside of London at the Runnymede Air Force Memorial. This memorial is dedicated to those who went missing during World war 2 and whose remains were never found. Another huge memorial with walls covered with so many names. It is another stark reminder of the cumulative grief that war brings to so many. Each name is a son, husband or father and the effects of each loss would flow through whole communities.
Here Alana commemorated two missing airman. She was obviously very emotional but to her credit she carried herself well, but even more brave was the fact that she then played the Last Post straight after. She gained a huge amount of respect from us all with that show of fortitude.
Today I did my first and second commemorations, at the Runnymede Memorial. I wasn't quite prepared for the emotions that I felt. As as I started talking about how my soldiers died, I felt an overwhelming sense of sorrow rush over me. However, it was when I started telling the story of my great nan and her first husband (Andrew Pearce) that I couldn't hold back the tears. After placing the cards and flag at the locations of their names, I went to play the "Last Post". I didn't have to but I felt that I needed to in respect of the fallen, especially for my family. I'll never forget today, and I am so very honoured that I had the opportunity in commemorating possible the most brave men in my family"
Seeing your little brother's initials on a war memorial and realising that if we lived back in that time it could have been him gave me feelings that are impossible to describe.
Back onto the bus and off to Sutton Veny. This is a tiny village that during the war hosted training camps and a hospital so many diggers came through here. The village church contains around 143 Australian war graves, some of whom died of disease or wounds in the hospital, but a significant number survived the war only to succumb to the Spanish Flu epidemic of late 1918 and 1919. One young man died almost a year after the end of the war. It is difficult to imagine the pain that his parents went through, believing that he had survived the worst and would be on his way home, only to have him snatched from them. Next to the church is the village school which has about the same number of students has there are war graves in the church yard. We went to the hall and were treated to a very welcome lunch, and afterwards were introduced to the Year 6 class who then escorted us to the church for the school assembly. This was a treat and the confidence of the students, who presented their work to us, from 5 year olds up to 11, was a credit to their teachers and to the school. After the assembly we moved into the grave yard where we looked at the headstones for some time before Tamika remembered her great great uncle who spent some months in the area, surviving the flu, before returning to Australia.
Today I stood before the grave of a 16 year old from South Australia. That is the same age as me. He died in 1916, and I do not know when he enlisted. The devastating part of this storyis that when this soldier enlisted his father stated taht he was 18. How could this man live with himself knowing how elementary it could have been to prevent such a horrific tragedy.
I really enjoyed spending time at the primary school. The Airman's Memorial was the highlight, the feeling I got from it is impossible to describe
I didn't enjoy the early start this morning but it was worth it to go to the Sutton Veny School and meet all of the kids. It was a shame that they couldn't stay to see the commemoration though. I was so nervous about singing the National Anthem, but after I'd finished it was such a relief and I was glad that I did it.
Meeting all the Year 6's was awesome. Once you got them talking they didn't stop. Even with the gae difference and coming from different countries, we had lots to talk about. It was also interesting to sit in on their assembly.
Had such a tiring, motivating and emotional day at Sutton Veny. Seeing the school kids and commemorating my solider was such a real experience. I think now this trip is really sinking in and becoming a more raw and life-changing experience. Definately enjoying myself more and more.
This little place has a very special place in my heart. It has its own unique story as its people have made a permanent and ongoing commitment to remember and honour the Australian and New Zealand WW1 veterans who lie in their village cemetery. Every year on Anzac Day the whole school has an Anzac service involving all of the children of the school. The Year 6’s prepare posies of flowers to be placed on every one of the war graves in a ceremony that is humbling to be a part of. Our time at the school this year was quite different from the initial visit in 2010. Landing at midday we were greeted by a yummy lunch made by Maria, Nicky Barnard’s sister. The Year 6’s joined us later then the two groups of kids met each eyeing the other off in a kind of Mexican stand off.
‘ What do I say to them?’ one of our senior kids said nervously. Then the little ones looked up the big kids shyly waiting for ours to take the lead. It was quite funny really. So eventually the big brave 16 and 17 year olds made the first moves and broke the ice. In a heartbeat the Pommy year 6’s were chatting and giggling with the big Aussie kids. Together we walked over to the chapel for the school’s weekly assembly of celebration of kids’ achievements. These little green people were just gorgeous in their confidence. I spoke very briefly about Connecting Spirits and then at the completion of the kids’ presentations the school sang us ALL of the verses of ‘Waltzing Matilda’….lovely. We completed our day with Tamika’s commemoration at the Cross of Sacrifice in the late afternoon chill. Thanks Nicky and Rachel and all the staff of this adorable school and its community.
From here we travelled to our hotel not far from Stonehenge and settled in for the night.