Personal travel manager Emily Turner had the luxury of a trip on a Avalon river cruise along the Seine River for a week. However, she came to find that it wouldn’t be the only highlight experience she would have, Emily shares her story.
Cruising in April meant we had gorgeous spring weather every day, a simply beautiful time of year to enjoy France. Blue skies and chilly mornings meant a flawless dew settle on the flowers of Monet’s garden, picture perfect photos of the Eiffel Tower and crisp but enjoyable evenings sipping cocktails on the boat’s Sky Deck.
As we were in France in April, we were able to see the Dawn Service at Villers Bretonneux on ANZAC Day. Being an Aussie, this was an incredibly moving and memorable experience.
Our morning started early (as in 1am) where we were collected from the boat and driven about three hours to the small town of Villers Bretonneux, just outside Amiens. I drifted in and out of sleep on the bus, desperately trying to supplement the lost hours of slumber.
It was still dark at 4am as we approached the Villers Bretonneux, but we could see in the distance a line of mini bus, coach and car headlights dropping passengers off at the memorial service.
Once at the front of the queue, our group of 12 made our way into the cemetery where thousands of others were gathering, huddled together against the cold. Of course I forgot to mention that this morning, after nine days of perfect weather, happened to be freezing cold and pouring rain; perhaps tears from the fallen soldiers and a reminder of the conditions they would have endured.
The service itself was a sobering and unforgettable experience with images of fallen soldiers being projected onto the tower of the memorial, reminding us of how young some of those men were. As the bugler played the Last Post, I felt immensely honored to have been there representing Australia, remembering those who had sacrificed their own lives.
The light of the day began to spread among us as the ceremony concluded, and a sea of umbrellas could be seen filling the cemetery. Over 6,000 people attended the Dawn Service that day; many making the trip from Australia with attending the service being their motivation to visit France. Students from schools across Australia had written messages on small crosses, which were sent to ANZAC Day services around the world. As we made our way slowly through the graves back to the exit, we were given some of these crosses to lay on the graves of the fallen soldiers.
I was cold, wet and emotionally drained as we made our way back to Paris, to our warm, dry and comfortable hotel. However, this forced me to reflect further on what it must have been like for those soldiers who spent month after month in the Somme. I spent only four hours out in the elements of France that morning and one can only imagine what it would have been like for our fathers, sons, brothers and uncles with no prospect of a warm bed or a dry change of clothes. That day I was extremely proud to be an Australian.