Poppy among limestone

Dreaming and Reaching for the Stars: Victorian Students Walk in the Footsteps of the Australian Diggers

Kara Taylor, a history teacher from Mildura, Victoria, has just returned from the trip of a lifetime. She took a group of students and teachers from three different schools (Irymple Secondary College, Red Cliffs Secondary College and Mildura Secondary College) to France where they toured the World War I battlefields. The tour was planned after Kara won our Grand Prize at the History Teachers’ Association of Victoria Annual Conference. This prize, which reduced the cost of the tour, meant that these students from country Victoria got to head to the other side of the world to witness first hand the sacrifices made by our World War I diggers. Here are some highlights from the blog that Kara created while she was travelling. Please note that the images used in the blog are Kara’s and may not be used without her permission.

Day 1

Travel, travel, travel. At 6am local Mildura time, 40 teachers and students gathered with their families at Irymple Secondary College bus stop. We boarded the bus and made the seven-hour trip down to Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport. The bus trip went quickly and we were all excited to get to the airport and to check in on Thai Airways. We had come up with a way to make sure we were in the same spot when we needed to be. A count off, each student counts off their number. Our combined students are now experts at this method of quick check in.

Going through customs was a first for many. We made our way to our gate. We were already to go, but the plane was not. We ended up leaving Melbourne over half an hour late. Not that we noticed, we were just excited to be getting yet another step closer. Our students travelled so well and after watching numerous movies, we touched down in Bangkok. We were scanned again, made our way to our gate and explored the airport.

Due to the plane being late leaving Melbourne, we didn’t have to wait long to board. Not long after, we got on our A380 and made the last leg of our journey to France. Many of us who had not been able to sleep, managed to nap for this leg of the flight. 12 LONG hours later (and an hour late) we touched down in Paris. Full of beans.

Our group passed through security, picked up our bags and met Jeremy, our guide for the trip. Jeremy greeted me, in typical French fashion, with a double kiss.

Our first coach tour was of the key sites of Paris. We saw the amazing architecture of the city, the cobblestone roads and the small side streets. We were able to get out and take photos of Opéra Garnier, Place Vendôme and finally the Arc de Triomphe. From here on the Avenue Des Champs Elysées we were able to partake in a café lunch and watch the world go by. After lunch and a stroll down the Avenue Des Champs Elysées we arrived at our hotel. A quick rest and a long-needed shower before dinner, then off to bed for rest as we have a massive couple of days to follow.

At this point of the trip, I can safely say that we are in Paris and I still cannot believe it.

Day 2

What a big day! We started with a wonderful breakfast, then hopped on to the Metro and made our way to Le Louvre. Here we spent two hours exploring the halls of this great museum, not nearly enough time, but each person was able to take in some of the areas they were most keen to see. The Mona Lisa was a priority for most of us. Teachers Katie and Kara almost jumped into each other’s arms at the sight of Venus de Milo, while others took in the Islamic gallery. All agreed we would have to return to Paris to experience Le Louvre with loved ones.

After lunch it was off on a walking tour to see Napoleon’s Tomb and the grounds of Musée de l’Armée. After this, we then took the metro to Notre Dame Cathedral.  This beautiful church was even more stunning inside with statues and leadlight windows along the whole building. The bells of Notre Dame Cathedral were amazing to hear, but alas, no one spotted Quasimodo. We then walked a small side street on the way to significant French revolution sites.

Dinner was a French culinary affair with many of the students trying escargot and liking it! With tired feet, we took the metro back to our hotel to fall into a deep slumber, ready for the next action-packed day.

Day 3

After a good sleep, we met again after breakfast and rode the Metro toward The Panthéon. This building was originally constructed as a church. However, during the French Revolution it was repurposed into a mausoleum as a final resting place for the heroes of France, those who had sacrificed their life in war or contributed to the life of the city. Some of the well-known figures who rest here are Voltaire, Rousseau, Marie Curie and Emile Zola, to name only a few.

From here, we made our way to Montmartre. It was an exerting climb up to the ‘mount of martyrs’ due to the large number of stairs. Our hearts were pumping, but it was worth it to see the amazing view of Sacre Coeur at the top. We made our way around the many artists that work in the area and have lunch. Mrs McClure, Mrs Clements and Mrs Taylor ate at one of the restaurants and were very happy to hear AC/DC playing in the venue.

After lunch, we bought many bargains and souvenirs for loved ones at home. We made our way back down the hill for shopping and an early dinner.

We boarded a boat that took us down the River Seine where the sights were taken without all the walking! As we returned to our departure point, the Eiffel Tower lit up and we got even more excited for what would come next.

Our group made our way to the foot of the tower and then up in the lift to the second level. While it was cold and windy outside, the view on this clear night was amazing. The city of lights did not disappoint. It was an amazing feeling to be on the tower after all the years of seeing it in books, on television and in photos. All the students were excited and Eli, who is scared of heights, shared in the excitement as his new mates helping him forget his fears.

After what seemed only a moment, we were back on the bus and at our hotel (at 11pm mind you). Everyone ready to fall into bed for another night.

Day 4

We woke up again this morning with very sore bodies from all the walking of the past two days. However, trying to get suitcases packed and closed was more painful after all our enthusiastic shopping. It was an hour drive down the road to Versailles to see The Chateau de Versailles. The beautifully large Chateau has an amazing garden. We discovered hidden fountains, carefully sculptured lawns, plants and hand crafted statues. After exploring the gardens we took a tour inside the Chateau. The rooms were richly decorated and elaborately designed. The hall of mirrors was a sight to be seen and was the location of the signing of the famous Treaty of Versailles at the end of World War 1. After visiting the Chateau, we made our way to the town of Versailles for lunch then on the bus for the two hour drive to Amiens, the start of the Western Front. Everybody headed off to bed early, ready for another big day tomorrow.

Day 5

We awoke early and made our way by bus towards the Hindenburg Line as part of the area of the Somme to the site of the Wellington Tunnels in Arras. Here our students learnt about the Battle of Arras, which is commemorating its 100-year anniversary from 9–16 April, 2017.  Arras had a number of flags around the town thanking the countries that had fought for the town in World War I. The tunnels under the town held several soldiers from the Commonwealth and France. With the New Zealanders being the main builders of the tunnel. Our students were taken though the tunnels wearing helmets in a moving memorial to the soldiers that both built the tunnels and fought in the Battle of Arras.

After our visit to the tunnels we headed to Fromelles Military Cemetery, the Australian Memorial Park and then V.C. Corner Australian Cemetery. Here our students quietly reflected on the sacrifices of men and women on both sides but in particular our own boys who gave their lives for this Great War.

We then made a very special journey to Trois Arbres Cemetery, which means three trees. This cemetery was of particular importance to me as this is where my great-great-great Uncle Charles Fredrick Procter was buried. Charles was only in battle for two weeks with his older brother George before he was shot in the abdomen and died of his wounds. His brother George Waterford Procter went on to fight for another two years before being shot in the head. He survived.
As I sit here now I again have tears. Tears of joy, tears of sorrow and filled with emotion of pride and thankfulness. I knew his location. After that I ran toward him. I know that I fell to the ground at the sight of his headstone. Both in disbelief and amazement. Here I was at the feet of my family. I told him he was loved, I told him he was remembered. I told him that his brother lived on. I thanked him on behalf of Australia for his ultimate sacrifice for our country and most of all from his family that he left behind and that lives on. We revere him, we honour him, we love him and we will never forget his name. The ancient Egyptians carved their names in stone to ensure that they would live forever…Charles will live both with his name in stone and in our hearts.

I must take this moment to tell you how amazing our students were. In this, my moment, I had not noticed that most of the students had gathered around me, in support. Mrs Clements told me that there was not a dry eye in the house. I was touched that my little story meant something to everyone else too. Charles’ final resting place was a beautiful place. It was well cared for and full of soldiers from all parts of the Commonwealth and the world: New Zealand, British, Scottish, Egyptian, Canadian and South African. I left happy, moved and thankful for this most wonderful opportunity bestowed. For as long as I live, I will not forget this moment.

From this emotional moment, we then drove to Belgium and to the town of Ypres. Here we visited the In Flanders Fields Museum. This museum was full of amazing tales and primary source materials. It showed the war from the Belgium point of view but full of information from all the sides of the war.

After the museum, our students made sure they got some Belgium chocolate and waffles. Next it was on to Peace Village for the night where some students played a game of soccer and relaxed with new friends.

We go to bed tonight missing family and knowing that family always lives on. As Stitch says, ‘Ohana means family. Family means nobody is left behind or forgotten.’

Day 6

After a moving day yesterday, today was a big one for the kids. Today was a day as a digger. We started our day at the Passchendaele Museum where our guides, Remy and Max, took us though the museum explaining the battles that took place and how our boys found themselves in this area. They had British and German bunkers and trenches to show us the places our boys lived and fought in. After this, it was time to be kitted up. We all dressed in Australian uniforms as part of the Tasmanian 40th Platoon, also known as the Tassie Devils. We had our lunch, which was Tommy Tucker, a stew of corned beef and vegetables. After cleaning up, we were given our bags and weapons, formed in our Platoon and James, as Lieutenant, led us out to march from the village to Tyne Cot along the same route our soldiers would have taken. Along the way, we had to frog jump and look out for the enemy. We came across a German bunker and tried our hand at throwing grenades (bocce balls). Joe completely missed the target and hit the bunker. After this, we continued on our march, making way for the many locals on their bikes – everyone here rides bicycles. We marched to Tyne Cot cemetery and were overwhelmed at the sheer size of this memorial. The loss of life was fully realised by our group. Again, our students were so respectful, sombre and moved. They did us all proud. We saw the many graves of Commonwealth solders representing every corner of the world. Australian soldiers fallen with their mates, as mates do. From here, as a team, we put our ‘normal’ clothes back on and thanked our amazing guides for an amazing experience.

We then made our way back to France for dinner. Over the border we found ourselves at a Flunch – a French canteen. Here you could pick your own meals from the vast variety of meals, drinks, delicious French deserts and pastries, salad and vegetables. We all agreed that we need Flunch in Mildura. Back to our hotel for a well-deserved rest ready for another big day of memorials.

Day 7

We were unable to make the last post service the night before, as there are thousands of Canadians in Ypres for the 100thanniversary commemorations for the battle of Vimy. This morning our first stop was Menin Gate so we could pay our respects to the lost soldiers on these walls. We placed a cross from the whole group of schools on the memorial and took our time to pay our respects to Aleisha’s lost family member. It was then on to Hill 60 to look over the area in which our Australians and British dug under the German lines. Here the front lines were only 5-10 meters from each other. Our day was packed after this, we searched and found Shalum’s family member at a tiny little cemetery, down a lane that was next to farms and houses. After paying our respects we moved on to the First Australian Divisional memorial known as the Windmill. After traveling early in the morning we stopped and had lunch at Thiepval centre and after lunch we walked up the hill to the Thiepval Memorial to the missing. Here students talked about the futile nature of war and how many men died and never found again; a sombre moment for all.  Then it was on to Lochnager Mine crater. Another place where British forces dug under the German lines to attack the enemy. Here the explosion was so great it left behind an enormous crater. Then on the way to Villers-Bretonneux we dropped into another small cemetery just outside of Albert and visited Fletcher’s family member. At Villers-Bretonneux we visited the Australian National Memorial to the missing. Again, the large scale of tombstones was confronting. This beautiful memorial like all the others we have visited was well cared for and showed the upmost respect for all the fallen men on both sides. This trip has been full of lots of highs but also it has been full of lots of sorrow. Our students have been touched by visiting these sites and we all feel honoured to be able to visit and pay our respects. Being able to visit family members has left a lasting effect on us all, we only wish we could have visited more.

Then it was time to put this pain of the past behind us, and make our way to the happiest place on earth. We arrived at our last stop, Disneyland Paris. We went into the village for dinner and a few of us bought some ears and shirts ready for our big day at the Park on the following day. A complete change seem to take place in the students – they were ready to take on the world. Tomorrow will be epic.

Day 8

It was an early start for some very excited people this morning and I am not talking about the kids. Due to us staying at the park, we were able to enter the park from 8am so we were ready to go. First though, we had to say good bye to Jeremy our tour guide. The kids loved him and often called him Dad. Then we sorted out check in times and groups. Finally, before we headed off there was a thank you gift from the teachers and students to Mrs Taylor – a well needed bag to carry home my goods; it was a wonderful surprise. Then it was on to the park. The day was filled with rides and meeting Disney characters and yes, princesses! Many a souvenir was brought both for loved ones and treats for ourselves. Yummy food was eaten and the night ended with a wonderful light and fireworks show. It brought a tear to the eye. Late night packing followed as we made sure everyone would be ready to go in the morning. Then it was off to bed.

 

This is the last entry but won’t be the last memories. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the schools involved, Irymple Secondary College, Red Cliffs Secondary College and Mildura Secondary College,for getting this trip off the ground also the parents who allowed their young adults to travel with the crazy teacher obsessed with all things Disney. I would like to thank HTAV and Latitude group travel for making all our dreams come true. Every now and then in life opportunities arise which we must take, otherwise we will never archieve greatness. This trip has been one of great highs and great lows but each and every one of us has taken more than just trinkets and things from it. Personally, I will come away from this trip educated, empowered, proud, happy and most off all thankful. Thankful to those who have come before us to make the way for our future and thankful to those that are our future and know that they meet life head on with a smile, a tear and a laugh. These young adults are the reason why I teach, they continue to dream and reach for the stars.

Day 9

This is the last entry but won’t be the last memories. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the schools involved, Irymple Secondary College, Red Cliffs Secondary College and Mildura Secondary College,for getting this trip off the ground also the parents who allowed their young adults to travel with the crazy teacher obsessed with all things Disney. I would like to thank HTAV and Latitude group travel for making all our dreams come true. Every now and then in life opportunities arise which we must take, otherwise we will never archieve greatness. This trip has been one of great highs and great lows but each and every one of us has taken more than just trinkets and things from it. Personally, I will come away from this trip educated, empowered, proud, happy and most off all thankful. Thankful to those who have come before us to make the way for our future and thankful to those that are our future and know that they meet life head on with a smile, a tear and a laugh. These young adults are the reason why I teach, they continue to dream and reach for the stars.

Please note that the images in this blog belong to Kara Taylor and may not be used without her permission.

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