I just cannot leave the Western Front without one more post. I’ve been going through my journal that covers this particular trip and have just come across pages of epitaphs I had documented. Once again those feelings return. I remember walking along the gravestones, many unknown, I can hear the bees, feel the warmth of the sun and the cold of the stone block where I sat teary and emotionally exhausted after I had finished transcribing the messages that had caught my eye.
11 April 2009 – A place that will never forget the Australians
“We found the place from where the unknown soldier was taken and is now in Canberra – very emotional moment.”
From here we visited the L’Ecole Victoria. A school dedicated to remembering our diggers from the Great War. I peered in through the windows as the school was closed that day, to find beautifully coloured drawings of Australian animals. The artwork continues on the external walls and a great big sign oversees the playground “DO NOT FORGET AUSTRALIA”. Every classroom looks out onto this sign. ❤️ Never. Ever. Forget.
Do not forget Australia. My journal 2016
My journal, 2011
We then visit Viller’s Memorial to pay our respects.
The epitaphs …
“Time passes but memory clings until we meet again”
“Your memory like the ivy clings”
“A nation’s gain. A parent’s loss. A sad bride. ‘Neath the Southern Cross”
In 2009 I joined my school group on a tour of the Western Front. It would be the first of several visits in the years to come. I could write lots more, but suffice to say these trips left an indelible mark on me. I will Never. Ever. Forget.
8 April 2009 – Ypres, Belgium
“The ‘real’ Western Front tour began yesterday … when I woke up this morning, the beautiful Cloth hall in the piazza was still there!”
The day before we had visited multiple sites traveling from Paris and onto the Western Front. We had our own bus with Fausto at the helm. A loveable character who spoke no English. We loved him, though I have no idea how we managed to tour the Western Front over the two weeks. It was a mix of broken second languages, lots of map pointing and patience but we got there!
The Fausto Express
“Fausto, our bus driver is excellent, the best U-turner in the country. I speak to him in a mix of broken Spanish, Italian & French and he speaks back in Spanish!”
The Western Front experiences were many and varied. Each time we visited I saw and felt new things. We met many well know characters along the way, who openly and graciously shared of their experiences. I have always found it difficult to discuss my experiences of the Western Front and the emotions I felt. My journals were my escape, they were the ones with whom I shared, sometimes hurriedly scribbling what happened, many times just relishing in drawing, cutting and pasting. It was the time where I could pour out my day so that I would have room to ‘feel’ tomorrow. In this post I briefly touch on just 3 moments: seeing Cobbers, Otto Dix exhibition, and the Last Post at Menin Gate.
As we all stood solemnly around the sculpture of Cobbers, listening to Ian as he told the story. I was instantly catapulted back to my under-graduate days and into the sculpture studio at MCAE (Melbourne Uni). You see the sculptor, Peter Corlett, was my lecturer for a bit and here I was in front of the original piece, in Fromelles. (There’s a copy that stands as a memorial to Australian soldiers and their sacrifice at the Battle of Fromelles on July 19, 1916 in the Shrine Reserve in Melbourne if you’re interested in seeing it). However, nothing comes close to the feeling that comes over you standing on this land, in front of this sculpture looking over yonder at VC corner where so many of our boys fought and died.
It had been a full day but nothing prepared me for the images I saw at an exhibition later that day displaying the war etchings by Otto Dix. Harrowing. I could not draw them fast enough so I could leave and close my journal!!!
My hurried sketches of a skull and a rotting corpse
In Ypres, every night at 8pm the last post ceremony is held under the Menin Gate. It has taken place every night, whatever the weather, since 11 November 1929. The only exception to this was during the four years of the German occupation of Ypres from 20 May 1940 to 6 September 1944.
You’ve probably realised that I’m not going to give a tourist’s guide to the places I have chosen to share with you but rather a personal take using snippets of writing and images or photos from my journals. I have added links if you would like to read more about these places, artworks, relics and people. Otherwise sit back and just enjoy the adventure through my eyes, hand and heart. I would love to hear about your own visits to these places. Feel free to add a comment below.
Assyrian Warrior 8th Century BC
“I spent the last full day in Paris in the Louvre. I went on my own, on the metro. I didn’t get lost! I just went there [again] to see what I wanted to see. I went to say g’day to Mona again. … [but] the highlight had to be finding the monumental Assyrian Lions right there in front of me!”
Their scale dwarfs you. I was not to know that years later I would come face to face with sections of the Ishtar Gates, in Berlin and be reminded again of the era I saw here in Paris. It’s an epic feeling I cannot describe to come face to face with works I have only seen and read about in my art books. I have been known to quietly greet the works as if they were a long lost friend.
“I saw the carved figures of Assyrians that are in my book back home. I couldn’t believe it!”
Hello, so great to see you in person!
“I also wondered through the Madonna and child sculptures. There are so many of them! This place is just amazing and I’m glad I got a chance to go back and enjoy it again.”
Anonymous ‘Madonna and Child’ circa 1400-1450
I have a photo gallery full of the wonderful Madonnas I saw that day from every age.
As promised, two posts in one day to make up for yesterday
19th May, 2007 – Our first visit to the Louvre – at night
Me, very excited, outside the Louvre late at night!
“After dinner we were accompanied by friends to the Louvre so we could take advantage of the all night free entry into museums and galleries. Amazing! The line was short and in 10 minutes we were in!! We headed straight for Mona, but not before running into Victory, Leo’s Madonna of the Rocks and a number of others. Mona was beautiful. … My heart was pounding. We spent about 1.5 hours in there, [lots of people] and … we found Venus and Egyptian art, but by 12:15 am we were really tired, so we headed home along with a horde of people on the metro. We got home at about 1 am. What a day!”
It’s school holidays again in Victoria and, well, we’re still in lockdown. So, I thought I’d take us on a little virtual adventure. Everyday during the break I’ll share with you an image and an extract from one of my many travel diaries. Yes, I know it’s Tuesday, I’ll make it up to you with two posts on one day.
Hope you enjoy and perhaps you might share your own memories of wonderful journeys.
My first visit to Paris
May 18, 2007 – My birthday and my very first visit to Paris
“I cried. I couldn’t help it. As we cruised down the Seine, even though it was pouring rain, there is something about this city that just overtakes everything else we’ve seen and done. Yes! Even the gondola ride in Venice!!. I had the best birthday celebration ever!
We walked to the Eiffel Tower just around the corner from our Rue Amelie apartment which is lovely and spacious, and had a look around then onto a cruise of the Seine with commentary. This was an excellent way to get a quick overview and for 10 Euro, great value!
On our return we had dinner at 9pm at a wonderful cafe called Champs de Mars, just at the end of the boulevard – nice food, everyone enjoyed it. We celebrated with two desserts which mad up my birthday cake, a choc mousse and creme caramel. My husband and 2 daughters sang happy birthday softly and I pretended to blow out the candles (sugar sticks). Just wonderful, a most memorable birthday and it took 43 years to do it! One day I hope to do it again!”