Today we ventured out to the Military Cemetery of Villiers Bretonneux.
Holds 11,000 graves of unknown soliders.
The Battle of Somme: 23,000 AIF soliders fallen.
The rows of white. The Australian Flags. The red poppies.
I didn’t have a relative who passed away in WW1, but, like all other students on this trip, I researched a solider.
Today, in the absolutely bitter chill of Villers Bretonneux, I gave his eulogy and placed a poppy at his resting place.
Allen Ernest Cole.
You enlisted to fight in World War 1 at 18 years of age on 19th of August 1915 in the 18th battalion. Your life was unfairly taken on 3rd April 1917 on the battle fields of France.
My name is Emma Gillon and I am a university student from Melbourne Australia. I am writing you this letter to say thank you.
You are of no relation to me, other than sharing the same Australian blood and Australian pride.
The human spirit is the strongest power a man holds. After suffering trench foot and frostbite, you returned to the battlefield, the most ghastly place on earth; a hellish reality of mud, death and trauma, a place which took your life. It is a testiment to your character and to the Digger Spirit.
Born in Lithgow New South Wales, you boarded a ship filled with no knowledge of the French battlefields, but filled with an optimism, a goal and a strength of character enviable to the modern day young Australian.
You wrote a will leaving all your possessions to your sister if your life was to be lost on the battlefront. You knew of the sacrifice. You knew. Your strength and faith in a time of complete uncertainity is commendable. Your resiliance to the horror is admirable.
I can not fully comprehend the reality of trench warfare, the odourous horror and physical and emotional toll of confronting death every single day. I can only lay a poppy at your final resting place and hold your actions, and the dignity with which you conducted yourself, in the highest of admiration. I can only bow my head and say thank you.
It has been said ‘…mateship was a particular Australian virtue, a creed, almost a religion.’ Your mateship and your courage will never be forgotten.
Your body has passed on, but your values remain. They resonate within every Australian. Your values, the narrative of your sacrifice and spirit will never be forgotten.
The sea of white gravestones before me is incomprehensible, inumerable and has brought me to tears. You make up the sea of white graves, of lives lost far too young.
Your story needs to be shared to give life in a place of death, and reinforce the strength and love of humianity, to make sure these hellish conditions are never witnessed again.
You died in hell. You died for Australia.
I am writing you this letter not only to say thank you, but to teach, share and remember. While the heart of the Australian spirit is still beating, your strength will never be forgotten. As long as that heart remains, we will remember.
Your efforts gave Australia peace. My hope for you, is for your soul to now rest in peace.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,