It's not easy to sum up or explain the amazing experience that Connecting Spirits is, before I went on this trip I knew of only hand me down tales of one of my soldiers, but then I started to really research his story and the stories of my two other soldiers and my nurse. Then through my research on them I thought that I had a really solid understanding on their story, but before I was standing at their graves I don't think it really clicked just how real they were. As much as you try to learn and prepare for the commemorations, nothing can prepare you for what you feel.
I think that for me the most emotional commemoration was of my nurse Edith Moorhouse because unlike the soldiers I was really able to put myself in her position and wonder if I would have had the courage that she had. At all of the graves though it felt like mourning an old friend, but it was at the same time sharing their lives with a group of people who are there to mourn their own fallen soldier.
But in between the commemorations we also had a stack of lighthearted moments where we let our hair down, enjoyed each others company and soaked up as much of the world as we could. I'm sure there's so much of these countries that we didn't have to time to explore but this doesn't worry me too much because I know that after this trip it's just made me even more keen to travel and explore the world, although I don't think I'll be able to find a greater group of people who I'd like to do that with.
I think that for me this trip has also helped me to gain a lot of self confidence, I know that before coming I never would have been able to stand in front of a group of strangers and sing by myself, and I never thought anyone would have wanted to listen anyway. This trip has also given me more independence and I've realized that I don't always need to rely on family watching my back and that I can solve problems on my own and take care of myself.
So if anyone is reading this and asking themselves if they should sign up for this trip, my answer is a very enthusiastic yes! It may be a bit of work to save up the money for the trip (Or a lot of begging your parents) but what you learn and experience is worth far more than what you pay.
Can't believe I am really back at home. Do I really have the option to spend my days at leisure?? It has actually been so hard to adjust to having no schedule; life at home is boring!! Connecting Spirits caused such emotional exhaustion with many experiences of excitement, happiness and pain. It was a fantastic opportunity to see the world and experience the various cultures within it, though I’m sure most of the others would agree, that the war aspect was invaluable. I can't even begin to describe how much of an impact it had on me (I don't think I will even realise it until much later in my life).
It has been one of the most confronting things I have ever done, yet I could never regret the year I spent involved with Connecting Spirits. I think it brought out the best in me, and I have really grown up. I especially loved how I didn’t have to pretend in front of anyone. During my commemorations, I let the full sincerity of my words and sometimes tears, flow without fear of judgment. It is truly the most incredible thing when a group filled with so many interesting individuals unite to commemorate the devastating sacrifices made so long so. ♥
Connecting spirits really is the trip of a lifetime !
As you read back through the days you remember what happened, all the smaller things and the things that really made it such an experience. All the names suddenly become real and it takes a bit for it to sink in that after all this time you're finally in those places you've been reading about for almost a year !
Remembering the things that happened like Richard doing a million point turn in the tiny back streets makes you wish you could go back and do it all again !!
While you're away the enormity of what you're doing doesn't even sink in, it's not until you get back and think about it that you begin to realise what you've done. The days are so full on and exciting you don't even realise how strong the bonds you are forming really are .
There are so many amazing memories that are impossible to sum up or put on paper ! Not to mention the amazing people!
One of my best memories will be the snow and cold weather (which sounds crazy I know haha). The snow bought so much excitement and laughter and bought the group together more even though it was through snow ball fights (: but the weather also added something more to the commemorations for me . To be standing there in the freezing cold in the rain or snow really showed the devotion everyone had to remembering these soldiers. It was such a powerful thing.
I'll also never forget our awesome guide and coach driver Rod and Richard ! Rod who bombarded us with so much information and so many stories( I don't even know how he remembers it all !) And Richard who scared the absolute shit out of us all driving into the roundabout at the arc de triomphe like a crazy man !!!
The weirdest thing is getting home and having nothing to do and no one around you . You have so much time to think about it and really remember and even now it's still sinking in !!
It's such a unique experience and you really have to experience it yourself to understand ! It was truly the most amazing experience with the most amazing people !
I cannot believe it’s come to writing my reflection already! It’s crazy how fast these past couple of months have gone. I almost don’t want to write it, as it means CS is truly over. The trip has made an impact on me so much that I can’t find the right words to give it justice. No one will really ever know what kind of an experience CS is until they experience it for them selves. I know I can never seem to find the right words when someone asks me “so how was your trip?” my answere is normally “really good, but very cold!” as I never seem to be able to summarise it in a way that they would understand.
There are two reasons why I enjoyed this incredible trip. The first being able to commemorate my two close relatives, James Andrew Pearce and Phillip Paul Adams (my great nans first husband and my great great Uncle) in which I hardly knew about to start with, and a family friends close relative. Commemorating James and Phillip at Runnymede Memorial is something that will stay close to my heart for a very long time. I will never forget the feeling that overwhelmed me when I began to speak the words written in front of me. During the whole commemoration I had a lump at the back of my throat. Seeing their name on the walls amongst hundreds of thousands of others was a strange feeling, knowing I’m closely related to them was a feeling I cannot explain. Looking at the names as I quietly strolled through the memorial made me angry in a way, how cruel war really was, and still is. However, I felt a sense of pride being related to those boys, who were truly only boys), who fought to their deaths trying to defend what they believed in. Struggling to hold back my tears, I played the most honourable song any trumpet player could imagine, the Last Post. That was my way to symbolise that their duty is done and that they can soulfully rest in peace. I hoped that they were listening and that I made them proud. I truly believe that my playing of the last post was the best I’ve ever played it as I felt I needed to honour them in the best possible way I could. The confidence I gained playing would not have been possible without the support of the group, and this is where the second reason comes in.
Not only has CS has given me an opportunity to visit my families fallen; it has also given me the light-hearted befalling to make new friends. Hang on; let me rephrase that, a new family. Heading into this trip I was so afraid we wouldn’t connect, and things would be awkward. But how wrong was I??.. The people I met are some of the nicest, outgoing, caring, compassionate and craziest (cough… Anne… cough) people I know. And that’s why I love each and every one of them . Leaving them at the airport was one of the hardest things about the whole trip. I was leaving my family to come home to my family. After spending a 25 day emotional roller coaster with these people, there was no holding back the tears when saying goodbye. In saying all this, about meeting new people, I have also developed a stronger connection to the friends I already had. I got to see them in their entirety, which was something I didn’t expect. I miss my CS family already, that includes you mother duck!! The most amazing woman I know! You’ve been like a mum to me Jules, and that I will always treasure. I’d also like to thank Mal, Lozza, Mr Sonntag, Rod and Richard (not just a coach driver). You guys made this all possible for us small town country kids, who otherwise may have never got the chance to do something like this without the CS project. I’m hoping this won’t be the last I’m involved in it, and look forward to what the future brings!
We have been on a trip of a life time all the way around the world and back again. We have gained so much from this experience including the unforgettable friendships and memories made along the way, yet you cant see the things that we have gained most from this trip.
All the emotions, the appreciation, empathy, understanding,and loss are evidently clear and surround the group each and every time we step off the coach, whether it be at a museum, a memorial, a battlefield, or a commemoration.
However, it is at the cemetery that you yourself are commemorating one of your own fallen relatives that has the most impact of all. It is in these moments standing behind his headstone or looking at his name up high on a wall, when we learn and feel most; you have forgotten the fact that you can't feel your feet, or that the rain is still falling.
In this moment it is just you standing straight and tall telling your soldiers story, on behalf of their family who may have never had the chance to stand at their final resting place ensuring that these soldiers will not be forgotten, and forever remembered.
The amount of growth that we have all felt individually in one way or another would have ordinarily been impossible if we where sitting back at home. It is trips like this that give young people like us an opportunity to expand, go outside our comfort zones and enable us to learn something first hand that is such an important part of our country's history. For this I am forever grateful, to the hard work and dedication from everyone involved, but most of all Julie and Mal.
Now being back home for a few weeks I have only just realized how much this trip has affected me, as it is unavoidable for anyone not to be moved by this emotional roller coaster of Connecting Spirits.
I've been home for a few weeks now but it doesn't seem real that i have even been away, it did while I was there but when I'm not thinking about it it doesn't feel like I've been anywhere. I do find my self when I am just sitting around doing nothing that I think about things that happened while we were away or just replaying memories of that time away in my head, just pondering things that I learnt or reliving memories that I found enjoyable.
While we were there I know that we were mainly focusing on the commonwealth side of the war, but it was the German side that hit me the most and I don't think its right that their government doesn't supply money to look after them, I know that they don’t want the responsibility of accepting that they did invade France but it wasn’t the soldier's fault they were only doing what the government said was right, just as those of the commonwealth were doing.
now that I am home I do find that I miss the friends that I made there and that Iwant to meet and spend time with them, maybe just talking about what we went through.
People say that this trip will be life changing, but I don't think you can truely understand the true emotions and thoughts that pass through your mind unless you stand where our brave heroes sacrificed their lives. It seemed like most places you look there was some effect of the war, which are still be clearly seen almost a century later. It makes you think about the true affects it had on the families of the soldiers. Did they ever recover and gain peace after those hard times of war and losing family members or did they remain as torn and damaged and the land still was? The many places we visited all had a story of their own and learning about each places when we were there to experience the view and sense of all the devastions, gave me an incredible sense of discomfort in the realisation of the true lose for our country and thousands of families. This feeling can not be achieved by mere research or looking at photos, the truth is you have to go and see for yourself to gather a persception of the real sacrifice and horrors of life in the war. I think after going on this Connecting Spirits trip, I have grown and gather a better understanding of the true significance of a life. I will use this understanding throughout the rest of my life and remember to live to my utmost potential, to make sure their sacrifices were not made in vein and to cherish the oppurtunities that those brave men gave up for their tomorrow to give us a better today.
‘How was the trip?’ I think I have choked over that answer at least a hundred times. What can I possibly say to make them understand? I usually stand there, speechless – because that is my most accurate response – before eventually spluttering out words along the lines of incredible, amazing, loved every second of it, life changing etc except I always feel like words fall short every time. I think one of the truest things said about Connecting Spirits is that you cannot understand the true impact of this trip until you have lived it. When the emotions hit me, I could never really understand them. And the less I understood them; it was with more strength that I felt them. There was nothing that gave me goose bumps more than when I saw the name of my soldiers engraved in the white stone. Or when the same eyes stare out at me from the photo of one of my soldiers, as the relative who, on whose behalf was commemorating him for. It was as if the two men could have been father and son; not great nephew and uncle. It’s these little things that make this trip so real and confronting. That these men really existed. They thought, felt, ate and lived too. And generations later, their faces can still be seen in us today. It never mattered how many years have passed, because the moment I saw my soldier’s name, they just evaporated. Now, as I read back through my diary I can’t help but look like an idiot, laughing and crying to myself. So many amazing moments we have shared together as a new found family and despite at least 3 diary pages packed with writing on each day, there is still so much that has been left out! Talking to students who have gone on previous trips I can see the permanent effect it has left on them as we talked for hours on end about our experiences like we could never see each other again! It was worth every cent because the experience that is Connecting Spirits couldn’t have been more priceless to me!
Getting off the plane and hearing the clear Aussie accents in customs was very calming knowing that after all these hours of traveling home our parents where only minutes away.
Coming out the gate was great being able to see not just my family, but everyone else's family. After going through all of this with this group it felt like we knew all their family's as well and it was great to meet them. It was hard saying goodbye to each and every person on the trip, but after becoming so close to Alysha while sharing a room with her, she feels like a little sister to me so it was hard and strange saying goodbye, but i already knew it wasnt a final goodbye, aspecially with our matching cups we have haha
It is so hard to put this experience into words, None of these friendships will be forgotten. And I hope there and more memories with this amazing bunch of people in the future.
I will use the lessons and skills I have learnt through this trip on a daily basis. This knowledge and understanding has influenced the way I think in many situations. And I am forever great full to my family for assisting me on this Experience. I just hope my younger sibling are now interested and are one day able to experience this for themselves, having the opportunity to create a Connecting Spirits journey for themselves. Because I know first hand what an impact it has.
It is very difficult to describe and really sum up this incredible journey we have been on called Connecting Spirits. After applying for the trip, attending meetings and reading through the blogs of previous trips I thought I knew what I was in for. Little did I know that nothing could have prepared me for the overwhelming emotions felt from this trip. After researching my soldiers I grew a strong bond with each individual hero and their story. These bonds grew stronger as each day passed whilst overseas. Visiting sites of World War One and places where these young Aussie heroes fought made me even prouder to be Australian and extremely grateful to live in today's society. But what touched my heart most was the deep sadness felt from visiting many cemeteries and memorials and being faced with seas of white headstones and walls filled with names. One of my strongest memories from the trip was when we were all sitting down looking over a very large cemetery and Julie said "over the next few weeks we will be visiting some of the largest war cemeteries in the world but if you imagine all of the names on the memorials we visit each having a grave , these walls of names are truly the biggest." I think this was when the realization of the significance of this trip really hit me. Each day that I had a commemoration I was filled with nerves. I didn't think I could commemorate these Aussies with the honor and respect they deserved. What they went through for our country is indescribable and when it's just you standing behind the white headstone that has your soldiers name on it , in the freezing cold bone chilling weather, it is both difficult to speak and to keep control of your emotions. All these emotions can not be felt from just reading through the blog or our soldier pages , you have to be a part of the trip to really feel the true impact.
As well as the serious side of the trip there were also the fun and hilarious moments. I think this part of the trip also really helped pull the group together. Such as meeting Rods daughter Sophie who is a real character, the moments on the bus at the end of the long days when everyone was that tired that we were just crazy , Richard and Sonntys jokes and Euro Disney.
This trip has done so many great things for me. I learnt to become more independent , I became even closer to best friends who I've known since kindy, I became more comfortable talking to new people , I improved on my public speaking skills and i have memories that I will cherish forever.
Connecting Spirits has now taken five different groups of young and, not so young, Australians to the former battlefields of WW1 and some WW2 locations. (I count in this number the new ‘baby’ of the Meningie CS initiative, the RSL/Connecting Spirits Fleurieu Region April tour from this year as well). When reflecting on this year’s CS family, I can’t help but look back as well as forward when processing the impact of each project. When we started this whole venture in 2005 the original focus was to create a programme just for students enrolled at Meningie Area School. As things developed Birdwood High School entered the story in 2006 and this year a third school Coomandook Area School became part of the CS journey as well. Following the 2010 CS tour one of its members Molly Flanagan worked towards the establishment of the RSL/CS group based in McLaren Vale. Due to the commitment and dedication of this young woman, this second CS project provides evidence of how much youth leadership can achieve when those involved are given support and encouragement. Now the youth and returned servicemen and women in the McLaren Vale and Willunga region have joined the CS venture. Many strong networks and wonderful friendships have been established over the last six years because of CS both overseas and here in our own communities. Some of these will last a lifetime others may be just for the time of an individual’s participation. The length does not matter as each leaves its mark on all of in some way. Change is inevitable and desirable if what we do is to be dynamic and relevant and in the future our aim is to expand CS in the Mallee region and hopefully open it up to the cluster of schools that already share many learning experiences with Meningie and Coomandook.
One of the central keys to making this process successful and exciting is the quality of the young people involved. This year we hit a whole level on that score. These 2012 kids were simply awesome. From three different schools and with few chances of ‘breaking the ice’ before we boarded that first plane at Adelaide airport on November 25th (how that seems like a lifetime ago!!!) they just blended in without missing a beat. Certainly there was a huge range of personalities BUT the one thing that everyone shared was the common sense of importance they placed on why we were taking this journey. Central to everything were the men and women who gave their lives during wartime and learning about the impact their loss had on their families and communities. I adored them all and I guess that is why the whole Paris airport thing and QUIET coach journey back to the UK was so gut wrenchingly difficult. So I would like to pay tribute to each and every member of our 2012 CS family and I hope I don’t miss out any good stuff!! As I didn’t know who to do first I have used the LONDON rooming list as my guide.
Our Richard is not JUST a coach driver….he has become a friend and supporter of CS as Mal said when he presented Richard with his CS coat in London. The logo and dates (2008-10-12) track his involvement over the years. I have said many times he is the best in the business and I am not just referring to his professionalism while carting us around in his beloved ‘Bessie’. He looks out for us all and has a keen eye on all that happens. When kids are sick or things are not right he tells me and that kind of support is pure gold when taking a group overseas for over 20 days. His offer to Jake to stand with him at Harelbeke because he knew that Jake was anxious about his commemoration is just one example of his support. We all love him to bits…even Jakey who called him Rod!!! Thanks mate for all you have done and will continue to do with future tours. (Cant wait for the next lap around the Arc Di Triomphe with all the French drivers cursing you as you slow down for the second go!!!)
This one will be a hard one to write and I guess a hard one for Jude to read. Jude has become a CS tragic just like Mal and me. She is totally devoted to all it stands for and is the most amazing person to work with. Jude joined the team in 2008 along with her son James and since then travelled on the 2010 tour and then the adult tour in 2011. Jude also gave her support to the RSL/CS members helping them with their soldier research even though she did not travel with that group. And so as the time came for departure for this year’s tour Jude was happy as a kid with a new toy. She was working on the soldier book making it the quality production she always comes up with and proof read and edited every page produced by the group. And then the news that hit her for a six- an unexpected health issue came up and there was no way she could travel. …..with just a few weeks to go. We were all devastated for Jude and she was heart broken. However she was never far from our minds and on the day when Jude was meant to commemorate one of her soldiers, her niece Demi stepped in and insisted that she do it for her. Jude WILL remain part of the CS family and I am hopeful we will have her on the next plane! You may not have been with us on tour Jude BUT you were always in our hearts.
Thank you Monica (Principal of MAS) for letting us have this gem every second year at one of the most demanding times of the school calendar. As Deputy Principal AND moderator, taking off for Europe in late November is probably a bit of a nightmare…our gain though!! Having now worked with Mal on all of the CS projects since 2006, we have established a really great working relationship. His passion and commitment to the research side of things is unquestioned as his knowledge of the battles and strategies. (Look out Rod…you may have an apprentice in the wings!!) Mal handles all of the DECD side of things and carries a very heavy load of responsibility now that I am no longer employed by the department. He gives so much to CS that in many ways he has become the heart and soul of what we do and I just hope that he never leaves MAS!!! It was great travelling with you this year mate and once again the kids have gained so much from all you do to make CS the success is it. It has been a real pleasure to take the Frank Bartley story to a new level with you as we traversed the places where he fought and died. I know how much it meant to you to find these new locations and it showed the kids what can be achieved when you follow your passion.
LORRAINE WILLISS ( Aunty Lozza)
When we started the planning for this project I was disappointed when Lozza told me she would NOT be going this year. Well due to a number of unforseen staffing changes thankfully that situation changed mid year. I could not imagine CS without Lozza as she does so much for the kids before, during and after the tour . The herculean effort she puts into the application process with all the paperwork required by DECD, is extraordinary. We never have any problems with all of that due to Lozza’s attention to detail. Amazing! On tour she is wonderful to travel with ..lots of fun…(love THAT laugh Lozza …especially when you have that whole breathing thing as you gasp for air between the hysterical cackles!! Hilarious…) and the kids all love you to bits as you care for them. The fact the non MAS kids soon warmed to you is evidence of just how much you are appreciated and we know that CS would not be the same without you Lozza. Thank you for all that you do and for being my friend. . LOL..xoxox (Start planning for 2014!)
Little Amy from Coomy was a real surprise packet. Softly spoken and a little reticent at first, it did not take her long to settle into the group and mix freely with the kids from all the schools. I really liked the way Amy approached her responsibility of commemoration. Her research on her soldiers was very thorough and the delivery of the commemorations, excellent. Amy showed a real desire to try to understand the era of the war and to grasp as much as she could about what these men and women from nearly a century ago were really like. If you read her contributions to the blog you will see the depth of her thinking and the maturity of her approach. As the tour progressed we also saw the crazy side of this lovely kid with competitions with Bianca and Marni to make the weirdest looking faces and eye movements!! Scary! And of course she found something else on tour…a certain person who seems to be taking up most of her Facebook posts these days. Aaah……young love! He’s a sweetie Amy …I approve!!! Thanks for such a positive contribution to CS and I will keep on following the FB posts with great interest.
A few months before we were due to leave I asked Mal if we had any students in the group who could play the bugle. He thought that maybe Alana could BUT was unsure of she would feel confident enough to tackle it. Playing the Last Post in the conditions we experience is a massive challenge even for really confident and experienced buglers. So when I first met Alana I was unsure as to whether she would take it on. In the lead up to our departure she tackled probably the toughest of all gigs….playing the Last Post on front of a whole school assembly for Remembrance Day. Playing in front of your peers like that is tough when it is such an important occasion. Well she was wonderful according to the MAS kids and so we had our bugler for the tour. Each occasion Alana played provided its own unique pressure, her first time being doubly confronting. We were at Runnymeade Memorial to the lost airmen from WW2 on a frosty morning. The sky was brilliant blue and the air was very cold. Not only did this beautiful young woman deliver two commemorations to her relatives as we all struggled with our own tears, but she then backed it up with the Last Post. Now that’s what I call guts! And then again at Sutton Veny, the National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux and of course at the grave of Rufus Rigney. Thank you so much lovely Alana…you are a treasure. Youth Leadership 2014???????
BIANCA KAHL (our Kate Middleton look alike)
Tall, gorgeous, slender and SUCH A DAG!!! What a kid! I fell in love with this crazy person…picture this….it’s Paris…formal night ‘Glam night’ …flash dresses / ties/ matching braces/ high heels to die for...etc…and then there is our ‘Kate Middleton’….lovely smart top, hair gorgeous…BUT has on top of the leggings BASKETBALL SHORTS….plus (and this is the best bit) white socks with the free terry towelling slippers from the Singapore hotel! OMG! What a crack up! And then of course she does the whole demented rabbit looking thing + the eyes turned backwards! Bianca you had us in stiches all tour with your adorable /mad/ unconventional sense of humour. You are one in a million. However as crazy as you could be, equally when it came to our core business the attention to detail in your commemorations was superb. You have a lot to offer young lady and I hope that you too will consider Youth Leadership in 2014. It was a joy to travel with you…and do try and keep Jakey in line!!! I will watch the FB posts with interest.
One word….feisty! You will take on the world Tamika and I have no doubt that what ever you end up doing you will make an impact where ever you go. You brought to the group something very special…a questioning mind and a desire to learn. You soaked up every experience and took seriously what we were aiming to achieve. Your commemorations were wonderful showing a depth of thought, research and personal analysis. One of your blog responses summed up where you were coming from when you dressed down a person’s remarks about your ‘HOLIDAY’ overseas. The passion and conviction your response expressed showed just how much you have invested in CS Tamika. Impressive stuff. Also I think you would make a fantastic teacher Tamika so that when Jurgsy is too old for his walking frame you can take over the project!! Finally thank you for such a fun night in Paris when you attempted to teach us the Gangnam routine. Oh dear oh dear!!! What a hoot. Finally…pity that the boyfriend is playing for Geelong and not the CROWS!
Our shopping queen and fashionista! However Marni is so much more than that. She has a big personality and on first meeting can be a little overwhelming, but Marni is a young person going places who has a very clear sense of her own purpose. I just loved the fact that in preparing the research on her soldiers she travelled to Port Broughton, not overly close to Meningie, to find out more about her boys. The depth of her research on ‘Diver Derrick’ as shown in the SOLDIERS link on our website was quite incredible. She took the commemorative process very seriously and included beautifully scribed poems to each of the men she had learnt about. When sharing their stories with us in the cemeteries, Marni’s sincerity was obvious to all. Yes she knows how to shop….but this young woman did not falter one nanosecond in the core business of this project. You were a credit to your family, school, community and the men you remembered Marni and I salute you. (ps…the best bit though was seeing you at breakfast in the Ypres hotel with NO makeup on, your pj’s under your trackie and a HUGE smile all over your face…GOLD!!!!) Don’t lose that smile young lady…it lights up who you really are!
I must admit to being a little worried at the Adelaide departure lounge Lauren to see you sad about leaving for overseas. I wondered how on earth you were going to cope with being away from home for three weeks. You clearly had taken a big personal step in undertaking such a journey and when I look back on your thought provoking and insightful reflections throughout the blog, it was obviously a risk worth you taking. Quietly spoken and a little shy, to throw yourself into a group of people you hardly knew must have taken a lot of courage and I think you are amazing for doing this. But to see you at each and every one of your commemorations it was pretty clear what your agenda was all along and that was to acknowledge the sacrifice of these men and women. You were always thinking about what you were being exposed to….your comments showed a mature and very sensitive sense of empathy for these people from such a different time and place. The little personal items you brought with you to place on the graves were so special…gum leaves carefully laminated from the places these men came from, personal comments you included in their stories…your contribution to the project was magnificent and to see the photos on the GLAM night in Paris with that huge beaming smile over your beautiful face was a gift…thank you for moving out of your comfort zone and sharing who you are with us…our project is the better for your participation.
I met you way back in 2005 in a B & B in Meningie with all of your clan plus the Rowes, as we started planning for the first ever CS project in 2006. A little girl of around 9 years of age, who would have thought then that you, would become the star you were on this tour. The baby of the Eckert lot, sadly you are the last of the Eckert kids to join CS (unless of course you take on Youth Leadership for 2014???????) You know how I felt about you and your journey Alysha…we shared that many times, but in this forum, the world needs to know just how special you are. At the tender age of 15, the insight you showed while on tour not just about the war stuff, but about people and life in general, was truly surprising. You have a maturity beyond your years. Nothing shows that more than your desire on our day off in Ypres, NOT to go shopping…or ice skating…or chilling out…no you wanted to go back to John Eckert’s grave on your own away from the group for a private visit. And so with the help of Mal and taxi, you went back to his grave for a time just to sit and talk to your relative who died in this foreign place. Of German background, his decision to go to war was even more difficult as you realised when you were at Langemark German cemetery when you were face to face with so many ECKERTS on the German memorial. Your genuine tears and sorrow back at the hotel after that experience cut me to the core as I saw a young person try to unravel all that is so complex about this thing called the Great War. Thank you for letting me share that time Alysha…a memory I will treasure. Miss you heaps!
When I taught Verity in Year 8 at Birdwood High, I don’t think I ever heard a peep from her all year. A quiet, intensely hard working student, Verity was incredibly motivated and self sufficient. However in joining this project I did wonder how she would cope with the social side of three weeks on tour. Verity was the first student to sign up for CS 2012, in fact her dad was so keen I remember getting a phone call in London when I was travelling wanting to know when they could pay the deposit. That commitment was evident in all that Verity did in her pre-tour preparation and also while on tour. Each of her commemorations was superbly put together and each soldier had something special prepared by Verity. One was a blacksmith so Verity brought a horseshoe to leave on the grave. Another was great writer so this time Verity left a small diary to represent this part of the soldier’s story. It was that attention to detail that showed the depth of this young girl’s dedication to CS. And of course as the tour progressed the real delight was to witness an evolution of her personality. Soon the quiet, shy girl turned into a smiling chatterbox…even bossing Marni around! That was pure gold. Thanks Verity for all you did and for letting us into your world just a bit more.
Anne had just completed Year 12 at Birdwood High and was completely new to me. I did not teach her when I was there so it was a blank page in relation to this young lady. Well she soon filled up that blank page…more like a book! What a woman! Confident and interesting, Anne has a crazy sense of humour and endearing personality mixing easily with everyone without pushing her way in. Her commemorations were simply superb and very personally felt by Anne. There were many times she undid us emotionally with the intensity of her deliveries. Two that stand out were at Poperinge and Lille. Her commemoration in the vast cemetery of Lijssenthoek of Charles Lockart in the cold dusk as the sun was setting was spine tingling…not just because of the weather. And who will ever forget our trek across the massive public cemetery at Lille – it was massive and we were wet! The rain poured down but undeterred she led the way to tell the story of the nurse Edith Moorhouse. Huddled under our rain coats her tears added to the experience. She FELT this woman/s story even though Edith was not a member of her family. And then of course the many times Anne sang our National Anthem – Singapore +Sutton Veny + Villers-Bretonneux + Harelbeke and in the public ceremony at the Menin Gate. I never thought anyone could equal Flo’s rendition Anne, but I was proved wrong. You gave it your own beautiful stamp and one all of us felt deeply moved by. Those blank pages are full of wonderful memories I will treasure.
Dressed in her THIN cotton Army cadet’s uniform, Demi was a fine representative of her unit and her country. She stood in cold, frosty, wet and freezing conditions without a thought to her own comfort. At the Australia National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux the commemorations went for over an hour and that cold bone chilling wind so normal for that location, made our toes just about drop off: I couldn’t feel mine yet Demi stood there all that time in her thin uniform with short sleeves. In complete contrast at Kranji Cemetery in Singapore and as we all melted into little grease spots on the grass, Demi stood in her heavy boots and fitted khaki gear, once again no problem for this pocket dynamo. I love her to bits and she certainly took on the driver and our guide like a tiger! Always questioning and so keen to learn and to express her views, she is also a superb team player totally dedicated to all that is CS. My only regret is that your doting aunt Jude wasn’t with us to see you in full flight…but then Jude knows exactly what a treasure you are. Demi, I count myself really lucky to have shared your journey and if you take on the armed forces as a career I feel that our country will in safe hands. Go get em’ girl!!!
David came into the project very late in the day due to a change in staffing for the project. What could have been a huge headache for Mal ended up being a Godsend. David is a VERY experienced traveller having been to over. ..was it 65 countries???.. I lost count….anyway he had been around! Teaching in his last year at Coomandook prior to retiring from DECD, David was an instant hit with the kids. The Coomy lot clearly loved him to bits and the rest of us soon followed. He had us in fits at Changi airport while we were waiting for the long haul flight to London with his penguin story…(yes he has even been to Antarctica!!!) and hinted that his fish story was even funnier but couldn’t possibly tell it!!! At that stage I needed an oxygen mask and a change of underwear from life threatening laughter and the fish story would just have to wait. He was most insistent that it was NOT appropriate for a school tour but I was not to be deterred! We got it out of him at the GLAM night…and yep! It was hilarious (though the penguin one will always be my fav!) However on a serious note he was such a fantastic inclusion to the project and a first rate support to Mal in relation to the management of the kids. Always supportive and always ready to do whatever was asked of him, I just hope that we see more of ‘Sonners’ in future CS tours…just have to hear more fish stories! Thank you so much David from the bottom of my heart and I hope you love that teddy bear we got you from the Louvre.
Mikey is big lad with an even bigger heart! A popular member of the group he has a quiet strength about him and to see him struggle with his emotions at the grave of a relative at Wimmereux was quite poignant. He gave real thought to his dedications and even though they weren’t always long they were always from the heart and sincerely delivered. His keen sense of humour was infectious and on the long journeys, most welcome. Loyalty and friendship are qualities that are part of his makeup and it was touching when I asked Jake who he wanted to have hold the Ngarrindjeri flag with him at one point there was no hesitation…Mikey’s name was the instant response. This was also very apparent in the selection process we use for the participants in the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate. As in previous tours we get the kids to vote for who they want to represent the group at the ceremony. We have two to read the Ode, two to hold a flag and our group card and two to carry the wreath. I guess reading the Ode stands out due to the self imposed pressure of doing this in front of the public and the fear of forgetting the words. So the students who do this need not only to be seen by their peers to be able to pull it off but they also need to have the confidence to do it. Mikey, along with Alysha were absolute stand outs in terms of the number of votes they received from their peers and both were worthy recipients of this honour. A fine young man is Mikey!
ZAC VAN DEN BRINK
The third VDB to join a CS tour, Zacattack was a real mixture. I had been warned (by his dad…who I taught back in 1975 when I was at Meningie as a new teacher) not to take any nonsense from this young fella. Unlike his brother Dylan who came on the 2010 tour, you can actually get a word in edgeways with Zac and he did not seem to have the same passion for clothes shopping as his big bro did!! Even though he had to be surgically removed from his mobile phone at times, Zac had lots of layers to him. As I look over the trip photos there are the crazy, mad images of Zac doing his thing but if you look closely at the serious images there is one lad whose focus is ALWAYS absolutely where it needed to be. And that was Zac. He asked questions, paid respect for the fallen and was attentive to all of the commemorations. I was proud of you lad …and yes you are a bit of a larrikin at times….but hey …so were the men we travelled across the world to remember. The boys and men of 1914- 18 would have smiled to themselves and given you the thumbs up I reckon. It was great travelling with you mate. I just hope that you are NOT the last VDB to join the CS family!
Jakey, Jakey…such a cutie and a bit like that favourite teddy bear you want to keep on hugging!!! When I first met you at the final workshop at Meningie I don’t think you spoke two words to me or the group. ‘He’s a quiet one I thought!’ Mmmmm…..so to see you develop into the chatterbox come stand up comedian on the bus to Holland doing your own rap routine was gorgeous. What growth you went through! When you first met Rod and Richard you kept on saying that they scared you and then by the end of the tour the closeness that had developed between all of you threw those feelings right on their head. I wrote in depth about the Harelbeke day in the blog but once again I want you to know how thrilled I was about what you achieved in that cold Belgian cemetery. Carry that memory with you for ever Jakey but more importantly use it to build on …to take into your adult life to create a glowing future for you and your family in the way that Rufus and Cyril never had the opportunity to do. Make them your compass and when things seem unachievable focus on those Ngarrindjeri boys who gave up their future for yours. I love you to bits and look forward to many more FB chats. Think about 2014!!!! Make it happen!
Most Aussie boys and men have trouble showing or expressing their feelings but you are not one of them Josh. You wear your emotions on your shirtsleeve and even though at times that may make things a bit hard for you please don’t change!! Your kind and sensitive attitude to others is your strength and there were many times I saw your compassion openly displayed. The way you spoke about the men you had researched was deeply felt and beautifully expressed. You are a wordsmith young man! Going over your contributions to the blog bring those powerful feelings of empathy to life as you put a lot of thought and emotion into trying to understand those WW1 experiences from the perspective of those who suffered through it all. You were a friend to all in the group and it was just a delight to see you blossom during the tour and tackle some of the things that had been a bit of a hurdle for you. Your contribution to Connecting Spirits was wonderful…thank you.
Being so tall Jack I was rather shocked when I realised that you were actually one of our youngest group members. Looking at you deliver your wonderfully constructed commemorations I thought about the boys from the time of the war who lied about their ages to enlist. I guess you must be nearly six feet (tall ???) and those lads from so long ago who were your age and height made their way into that god awful war pretending to be 18, would have been like you. For some reason I often attached that thought to you, and at times when thinking about those young lads I found it hard to deal with. You were such a sweetie on tour and eager to learn as much as you could. The questions would come flying and it was clear why you had undertaken this journey. There are a few images I carry of you though, the first that comes to mind is of you at the VB memorial at our service trying to overcome your tears as you confronted the horror of grief and loss. The next one was you kissing Sonners on the forehead at our GLAM night thanking him for being your teacher…precious… and the one I love the most is at the very start of our pilgrimage at the departure lounge in Adelaide. There you are all those feet …..clutching Bianca’s teddy bear…classic! You are a lovely young man Jack and it was a real joy to share the CS experience with you. …and STOP growing!!!!!
The common theme over each of these brief accounts is DEDICATION to the process of commemoration. There were NO passengers in relation to this; the essence of Connecting Spirits and I believe this is why the 2012 group is so special. People often ask Mal and me why we ‘…go back to the same places…’ Well we don’t really as the youth of CS take us to new territory on every occasion we leave the country. I think I can speak for Mal here too in that the kids may go through a huge learning curve… but so do we. This is why I value each and every CS project and the family they create. Thanks guys and …KEEP THE MEMORY ALIVE. (KTMA.)