A Travellerspoint blog

Paris then the Western front Battlefields of World War 1

From light to darkness and loss..

sunny 12 °C
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Paris shone for us on our second day there.. We fell in love with it... I think you have to visit this amazing city of unique architecture, character, people and places of historic significance to understand that you could do just that...

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We had the privilege of spending time with some regular French friends in Paris. Jonas lived with my sister in Brisbane for a couple of months last year as an exchange student. We kept in touch through Facebook and, Voila! He took a train from his home 90 kms away just to spend time with us. He also brought his older brother, Nicholas and his girlfriend, Nina. They made an exception for us by eating dinner with us early (7pm) because of our early start the next day. They chose a traditional French Restaurant 'Chez Rene' and explained all of the dishes on the menu... None of which we recognised except for Beuf Bolurgne and Poulet Chasseut... The French know and love their immense array of delicious foods.. We had unrecognisable wine (1/2 bottle) with our meal.. These were young university students but they refused to let us pay... Not a small thing to them or to us... Such generous hearts. They were really concerned about how we have found the French people so far... Knowing that they have a reputation of arrogance & unfriendliness. We were able to report that we had found most encounters really quite civil, reasonable and some have been down-right helpful!!

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One of those 'little things'.. Two old ladies queuing at Abbesses Metro getting their tickets, two other old ladies queuing behind them wondering what they were doing and how they were going to get from Abbesses to Concorde (instructions given to us by our Mont Matre Walking Guide so we could get to The Arch de Trumph without grinding our legs down further!) 'Excuseé, madam, we are Australien and know nothing!' ( followed by a big helpless smile!) needless to say, we got to Concorde along the Metro from the deepest station in Paris (we had to go down in a lift 9 floors underground!)

Then came the battlefields... We are a bit long-winded with the description of these days but we can assure you those men deserve some of our time to reflect..
Saturday 3/4/16
The Somme:

100 years on from the battle at Poziers and we walked in the fields of heavy clay and knew we were walking on Sacred ground.. Just in that field alone, all ploughed up ready for planting the Summer crop, 2000 + young Australian men (all full of hope for a future, all loved deeply by their mums, dads, brothers, sisters, all there because they wanted adventure).. died. Many bodies never recovered, the bones still surfacing at times through the mud. We picked up the shrapnel that tore their bodies apart, we found bits of metal from the guns they were carrying. One of the braved Aussie soldiers of World War 1, Albert Jacko VC, fought on these fields.

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It was at this spot too that we met two old Frenchmen doing the same pilgrimage as we were. When our Australian guide told them we had come so far to pay our respects their eyes filled up and one said 'these men came to fight on our land for us, thank you!' We felt a deep connection that echoed over these killing fields. One of them produced a small white piece of chalk from a quarry near by and gave it to us.. A touching gift when you know the ultimate gift of lives was given by our forefathers so many years ago.

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The day got bleaker and colder, a symbol of the crazy war that was waged in this small area of rolling hills called The Somme. Our guide told us the whole story as we drove from one war cemetery, one memorial to the next. We could 'see' the main points of conflict because the area in which so many died was only about 5 kms at the most!!
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Some of the most deeply affecting insights not only about the battles fought in the Somme but at Gallipoli and in Flanders battlefields was the Incompetence of British Generals. They were all from the British Upper class and seemed without any common sense, humility or compassion at all. Some of the most decorated Generals were the direct cause of the loss of immense casualties, not just Australians. They had no thought for each of these men as human beings who had a family who loved them and wanted them home.

Another remarkable insight was the brilliance of one of Australia's Generals: General Sir John Monash (who was the only man knighted on the fields of battle in France during WW1). After the incompetence and bloody minded of the British Generals, Monash demonstrated real intelligence and was instrumental in winning the Battle at Le Hamel for the Allies by a change of tactics and manoeuvres. The fact that he was of German Jewish heritage made him unpopular with some but our guide, Phil, regards him as a war hero of titanic proportions!

Jen's reflection: The mud, the cold, the shitty mud. (But it was worse in Flanders Fields in The Belgium front which we were also to experience!
A piece of useless information: the great author, Tolkien (Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit) fought in the Somme but was diagnosed with trench fever in 1917 and went home to write.

Another thing: the only German tank left in existence is in the Qld Museum in Brisbane. It was dug out of the mud by Australian soldiers and it was brought home as a souvenir.. A mighty big one..

Sunday 3/4/16

Fromelles, Ypres, Flanders Fields

If only all Australians could see what we saw in these fields.. Not to glorify war but to realise the immense loss of life for what result? Scattered over this relatively small area again are the remains of hundreds of thousands of young men, all just doing their duty for their King or Kaiser.
Our first stop today was a German cemetery where 45 000 young men lie, one of them an Alfred Daegon who could well be one of my ancestors from my grandfather's side who arrived in Australia late in the 1880s as Dagan from then Prussia.
The German soldier's Cemetery

The German soldier's Cemetery

On Flanders Fields

On Flanders Fields

One of the most startling things about these fields is that you can't drive far without finding another cemetery.. Then another.. Then another.. Then there are memorials everywhere as well with row upon row of names of the dead listed, then there are lists of men who were never found in each of the centres of battle Fromelles, Ypres, Passendale.. We could not take it all in.

We went to the Fromelles Pheasant Wood Cemetery (the newest Australian cemetery only established in 2009) for the 250 young men just found in one of the 8 mass graves where Germans had no where else to put all the dead Australians around them. Here we found the grave of Harry Croker born in Taree. Our dear friend, Elizabeth's father's name. Maybe a great Uncle only found after 94 years. When we get wi-fi, we'll see what Elizabeth can find out.
An unexpected find... our friend Elizabeth's ancestor... her father was named after him

An unexpected find... our friend Elizabeth's ancestor... her father was named after him

Cobbers Memorial at Fromelles

Cobbers Memorial at Fromelles


These blokes died in 'the worst 24 hours in Australia's history' (19/20 July 1916)... 5 533 Aussies, 1 547 Brits and 1 653 Germans died in a few hours.

In the midst of all the darkness, there were and always is, 'light'. An example of that is depicted on an iconic bronze statue. It's called 'Cobbers' and it honours just one of the courageous Aussies who looked after each other during this mad war. Sergeant Simon Fraser risked his life not once but over 40 times to go out into the no-man's land at Fromelles and carry back injured soldiers.
'The Life-light blazed out of darkness
And the darkness could not put it out!' John 1:5

We were still to reach the fields of Messines where my great Uncle William Power (my birth grand mother's brother) fought with the 42nd Battalion and Passendale, where Jen's grandfather(Howard's father) distinguished himself when he stood exposed to German guns to identify where the allied gunners shells were landing and to redirect where necessary. He was presented with the Military Medal for Bravery by the Aussie General Hobbs. We looked out on those fields with great pride and great sadness.
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We thought we'd seen it all but one of our last stops before the sun went down was the largest military cemetery in the world: Tyne Cot. Too many almost to count but each one recognised by a cross.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

We went onto Ypres, a walled city devastated by war, to stand with 100s of others at 8pm for the four buglers to play the Last Post at the Menen Gate.. The gate of the city through which every allied soldier marched to the rest of the battlefields.. The last Post has been played at that point every night of the year since 1917.... We will remember these days and these stories of courage, sacrifice and madness for the rest of our lives.
A couple of good movies to see about this time in particular are: Hill 60, Passendale, All Quiet on the Western Front and the series 'Lost in Flanders'.
And if you've made it this far with this blog, you deserve another serve of this reminder:

'The Life-light blazed out of darkness
And the darkness could not put it out!' John 1:5

Posted by TravellingLight 10:20 Tagged war Comments (13)

More farewells and a few Bonjours!!

Paris in Spring...🌾

rain 6 °C
View TravellingLight to France and Italy 2016 on TravellingLight's travel map.

To Recap...
We must say that our hearts have been warmed by the generous and whole-hearted well-wishes that so many have showered on us... Thanks for all your thoughts, suggestions and prayers as we packed up our bags and began this epic 'retirement' treat to France & Italy.

Farewell to our beloved Pets
We were very sad to leave our two 11 year-old puppies & our beautiful cat, Gracie at home... There was just no way they could fit into our bags with Bear & Bunny. We are very glad though to leave them in the loving hands of Kirsty & Martin Arif who will live with them and look after our home while we are away. If you are looking for reliable house-sitters, look no further!! We have had regular contact since we left and all is well... They've even seen the cat!!

Bonjour, Paris!!
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The first thing that HAS to be said is.. What awful weather.. It's cold, wet & a bit windy (as our French friend, Tim, warned us about Spring in France 'God-awful' weather!).. But the second thing to be said is... We have packed well and have used just about every warm item of clothing we have in our bags already + our trusty umbrellas, our gloves, beanies and our woollen socks (thanks, Kylie!) now let's move on from the weather (we hear it's blimmin' hot still in Bris!!)
What is iconically 'French' to you???
Here's a few things we have either seen or imbibed today (in the rain!):- crepes, quiche, croissants, berets, Fromage, escargot, Notre Dame, La Louvre, and, of course, the Shakespeare & Company Bookstore.. The only shop where we could read all the signs and book titles and just loved the cosy escape from the weather. We HAD to buy a book.. Our first souvenir! 'Louis in Paris'.. A picture book about a sausage dog's adventures... Even rivals Bear & Bunny's thrilling escapades through the Rues de Paris!! Teddy & Isabelle will love it!

One of our aims during this holiday is not to just 'tick all the boxes' of the things one has to see and do in every place we go... We want to attempt to 'be in the moment' and notice the detail...the little things.. With this in mind, we ventured into Notre Dame Cathedral this morning (not just to get out of the wild weather). We were rewarded with a glorious choir filling all the corners of the majestic building with sounds that made our spines tingle..

The next place we tried to visit was the Hotel de Ville.. They wouldn't let us in... Shame really.. It looked an impressive building.. Outside in the Square, they used to execute folks... The guillotine was a French invention apparently.

Two other things about Paris: smokers & beggars..

We have just arrived home from an amazing meal at one of Paris's best restaurants: Frenchie.... And one of the chefs was an Aussie from Denilliquin..
This quote was written on the risers of the steps at the Shakespeare & Co Antiquarian Bookstore... Very apt.. More Paris sights tomorrow..
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Posted by TravellingLight 13:31 Archived in France Tagged paris Comments (13)

Farewells, Friends & the Future

It's an 'f" kind of day!!

sunny 28 °C

First... a Recap..

(Once a teacher...)
Thanks for all the added suggestions for what we should pack for our big adventure in France & Italy... travel clothes line, woolly socks, rubber bands, safety pins, thongs, zip-lock bags, extra undies, etc... we loved getting all of your feed-back. Two very important items we forgot to mention: an empty water bottle (until to get through Customs) and a small neck pillow. Some of you are keen to know the details of this journey but first...

Our Farewells

So the word is Retirement!!

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Jen has been at Moreton Bay College for 10 years and she has loved the friendships she's made and challenges she has met with courage, dedication and determination. Her total teaching career covers over 35 years. I met her back at good old Wondall Heights SS where she was teaching Yr 7 with great skill and flair. I was the newly appointed Teacher Librarian (and ended up opening the same door into the Library every day for 24 years!) Yesterday, Jen was farewelled very warmly and came home satisfied that she is blessed "to have had something that makes saying good-bye so hard!" AA Milne

I said Good-bye to my colleagues and friends at Mansfield SHS this week as well after nearly 3 years of trotting into that amazing school for a couple of days a week to do my 'thing' in the Resource Centre. I leave a school of 2 200 students, a huge staff and some very dear friends. What an honour to finish my career (spanning over 45 years) in a place where learning, good manners and excellence is so highly regarded.

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The Future

Well, our immediate future is taken up with our first trip to Europe in over 20 years (& then it was only a few short days in Paris). Africa captured our hearts from the first time we went there in 2001 and I have been back there 7 times (Jen, 6)! Memories of SO many experiences & people fill our souls with amazement that we have had such privileges in our lifetime...

Now for France & Italy

Here's the mouth-watering Overview:

29/3 - Fly Brisbane - Bangkok - Abu Dhabi - Paris.... spend a few days swanning around familiar sights and having a meal at Frenchie Restaurant (best one in town they say so we may only be able to afford a French Stick!!)
2/4 - Train north to Arras for a 2 day intensive Tour of the the Western Front Battlefields (Jen's Grandpa & my Great Uncle fought & survived that gruesome and tragic time)
5/4 - Join our dear friends, Donna Duggan, Nas, Rami, Eisha, Janet & Bob Duggan for a Road trip from Paris to Provence via Normandy, Loire Valley, Rhone Alps, Nimes and eventually Arles.
11/4 - Enjoy Provence for a couple of weeks - hopefully walking, riding, sightseeing and not too many French pastries & wines!
21/4 - Train from Nice to La Spezia in Italy where we spend spend time exploring the stunning Cinque Terra coastline (wait for the photos)
26/4 - After a few days in Milan, we pick up our "Italian Delights" Cultural & Culinary Tour (only 4 travellers + our Guide)! We will be treated to a wealth of experiences around the Alps, Lakes, Verona, Bologna, Emilia Romagna, etc - finishing in Venice
12/5 - Days in and around Venice, Florence, Orvieto, Assisi, Rome (travelling by train between each centre)
19/5 - Fly Rome - Abu Dhabi - Home (20/5)

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Our travelling buddies, Bear & Bunny, will be featured in our Blog along the way for two very special little children, Teddy & Isabelle, and a little bit of fun for us too!!

A thought for Good Friday:
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Posted by TravellingLight 21:12 Comments (7)

Why "Travelling Light"?

Well... we are 'travelling' and we are going to attempt to travel 'light' (in more than one sense of the word!)

sunny 28 °C

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Pippa is ready to go!!
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We are going away for 2 months to France & Northern Italy (29 March - 20 May) so, the first thing to think about is 'how cold will it be?' Best estimate? Colder than we ever have it in Brisbane but as warm as toast in any enclosed spaces. As Bev Ferrier suggested: it's layer upon layer.
We're toying with the idea of writing a full list of what we have packed... skip this section if you have no inclination to know how many undies are on board.
We have three bags:
1. Big Bag: we have just weighed them (thanks Fran for the weighing machine). Mine is 13.9kgs and Jen's is only 10.8kgs. Here's the list: (Hint: anything that can be rolled is rolled... for some reason it all just fits better.. thanks Donna for that tip from many shared trips ago!)
3 undies, 3 bras/camisoles, 3 pair socks, 2 pair knee-length stockings, 2 really warm polo-neck skivvies, 2 long-sleeved casual tops, 2 dressy long-sleeved tops, 2 short-sleeved tops (in case it turns 'hot'!), 2 day-wear travel pants, 1 dressy pair of trousers, 1 pair thermal leggings, 1 thermal undershirt, 1 pair summer PJ's, 1 polar-fleeced hoodie, 1 beenie, 1 pair gloves, 3 colourful scarves, 1 cap, 1 pair soft slippers, 1 pair soft walking shoes, 1 pair foldaway court shoes, 1 head torch, large toiletries bag (Jen), small toiletry bag (Eil), small First Aid Kit, tiny umbrella, 3 plastic hangers for washing, 1 extra bag for when this bag overflows!!
We have also packed FOOD!! (Trying to keep the costs down a bit as well as not having to scavenge for food every meal): I am carrying all this:
40 Packets of Shakes (Isagenics & Herbalife products) + a shake container + a battery-operated milk frothier, 40 protein bars, vegemite... you MAY be thinking 'don't they know there are shops over there?'
2. Back Pack: Weather-proof Jacket, warm polar fleece, all our assorted tablets (uppers, downers, outers, inners, those for aches, pains, insomnia, eyes.. and there could be more we haven't thought of yet!! Toiletry bag, tissues, wet-ones, mini i-pad (has EVERYTHING on it... itinerary, phone contacts, vouchers, ibooks, notes to self), Jen will have all the electrical gear.. re-chargers, etc.
3. Hand Bag: Everything that we would ever want at our fingertips... and that is quite a mix... most important: passport, credit card, cash and iphone. Jen has her camera in hers as well. We are not taking the 'big bugger'... too heavy to carry. I am just using my new iPhone 6S.
That's it!!
Being that our focus is on 'Travelling Light', those of you who have made it to the bottom of this blog entry will be treated by one of our 'light' quotes to ponder:

We are all broken, that's how the light gets in.

Ernest Hemingway
A8A5AA399EF92CF8C16F0D687D7C0029.jpeg Taken on safari in Africa 2013.

Posted by TravellingLight 14:58 Archived in Australia Tagged light Comments (14)

17 more sleeps..

The question remains: How will we "travel light"?

This week-end is the tester... Jen has to pack her bag... I have been packed for months but the extras are spilling out.. so a repack is required..
Here's a thought..

If light is in your heart, you will find your way home.

.... Rumi
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Posted by TravellingLight 20:17 Tagged light Comments (11)

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