Our ANZAC Day started at 2.30am as the shuttle bus we had booked to take us to the Australian War memorial at Villers Brettoneux was (I thought) to leave Amiens at 3.30am. I had to find a car park reasonably close to where the shuttles left from just outside the railway station. The owner of the Gite (B&B) suggested a place to park and we were able to locate it thanks to a now recharged GPS. I noted that the paid parking was from 9am to 12pm and 2pm to 7pm.... meaning it was free between 12 - 2pm. It would appear that as the French all take a long lunch break, no one is around to police the parking, so you may as well say its free for that period..... very French!
We discovered on arrival at the meeting point for the shuttle that our bus would not leave until 4 am.... so we could have had an extra 30 mins sleep.
We arrived at the Australian War memorial at about 5am. The "Memorial is located about 3 klm's outside the village of Villers Brettoneux (VB). It is a small village and as there is no accommodation to speak of, most people stay in either Amiens or Albert. As there are only a few parking spaces at the memorial, the police close off all the roads from VB and therefore the only way you can get to the memorial is by shuttle or walk the 3 kms (which a significant number of people did).
The dawn service started a 5.30am. We were told that some 4000 people were in attendance at the service with a TV broadcast live to Australia. It was attended by the Bob Carr, Australian Foreign Minister, the Australian Ambassador to a France and a number of French dignitaries from the equivalent Ministry of Defence. It was a well put together programme with a number of Australian high schools with students contributing with some presentations, or participating in the the music and choir.
At the end of the laying of wreaths by officials, individuals could lay wreaths or place tributes. Jane and I were able to place a tribute to her Great Uncle who was killed in France during WW1 and whose name appears on the memorial. We also placed a tribute on behalf of a family friend whose Great Uncle also is named on the memorial.
We were told to be back to the car park at 7.30am to catch the shuttle bus back to Amiens. At least 6 dignitaries cars were parked in front blocking the buses and preventing everyone from getting away on time. They didn't turn up and leave until about 7.50pm..... among them was our own Bob Carr. The people waiting started yelling out to Bob to hurry up and get a move on. He thought we were all cheering him and started waving in a manner much like the Queen. As his car was moving off the cheers went up and he continued to wave to the "adoring" crowds. Some commented that would be the last time he would officiate at an ANZAC Day ceremony as Foreign Minister!
There was only enough room for 3 buses to load at a time. As 8.45am rolled on and still no sign of our bus, I started to get stressed. We had to catch a train back to Paris at 10.25 ...and then another train onto Amsterdam. I had already resigned myself that I would end up with a parking fine.
I think we must have been the second to last bus in the line and managed to be back in Amiens with 30 mins spare to return the hire car and run the 900 metres back to the train station. Also the parking inspectors were probably still having coffee and croissants as I didn't get a parking ticket. Luckily, the train was 15 mins late ... Or according to the notice in French 15 min retard.
On the train back to Paris we met a young Aussie guy who had attended the dawn service at VB as well. He had been studying a Semester at University in Rouen. He had arrived the evening before in Amiens and being a poor student thought it wasn't worth paying for accommodation, thinking he'd hang about on the street after the bars closed ..... then catch the bus to VB. He said he met some people and ended up having a few drinks with them. He and a guy he'd only met that night found an old mattress on the street, dragged it to a park and slept on that for a few hours. He was wanting to believe the mattress had just been left out by someone as hard rubbish rather than discarded by some vagrant who had soiled himself in it just too many times to continue using it. Jane and I commented later that a guy like that, denying himself creature comforts, cold, sleeplessness, risking fleas and disease in order to honour the WW1 Aussie's who sacrificed their lives in a foreign land far from home, like them, he too was demonstrating the ANZAC spirit.