Anzac Day in Belgium Pt 1

Families and Friends of the First AIF Belgian member Johan Durnez’s report and photos form the basis of this account of the Dawn Service held on Anzac Day 2010 at Polygon Wood. 


You will probably recognize this place : Polygon Wood. I made the photo at 6.30 am, almost at the end of the Dawn Service when the red coloured sky announced that the sun would soon start to appear at the horizon……..It was the second time (for as far as I know) that a Dawn Service was organized in Buttes New British Cemetery. 

A shuttle bus service was provided from Zonnebeke to the cemetery – although Johan noted it was not a very efficient service. 

We missed the opening prayers by Father Ray Jones and the welcome by the mayor and alderman of Zonnebeke and the address by the New Zealand Ambassador………..We think that about 100 people were attending and the ceremony happened at the warstone, with the crowd facing the butte and 5th divisional memorial and with their backs to the graves…….There were candles at the warstone, they also marked the path to the place of the service with two lines of these burning candles from the entrance of the cemetery to the place of the service ……. 


Here are some of the photos that we made. Some will give the impression that it was still almost dark, some will give the impression that it was already light. It was in between the two. The darkness had already gone (I would have preferred 5.30 or 5.45 am as the start of the service) but it was not as light as it looks on some photos.  


We covered the headstone of Private Martin Neagle but in our minds we had the names and the stories of so many diggers and their relatives that we have known for the past fifteen years.  


A most beautiful salute to the diggers was the compilation of several Australian folksongs, combined with a religious hymn, played on the flute by Australian Wendy Quinlan. Sounded great in combination with the hundreds of birds singing in the wood at that moment !  


After the ANZAC dedication, there was the laying of the wreaths, followed by the Ode and silence. 



Then there was a volley by a firing party of the Belgian Army and the sounding of the Last Post  


and Reveille by the buglers of the Last Post Association. 


There were the national anthems of Australia, New Zealand and Belgium and then there was the blessing and benediction by Father Ray Jones.  


On the order of service was “immediately after the parade is dismissed the coaches departing for Zonnebeke Chateau”.  Yep… that was right ! Our coach was gone (again) ! ………….After the service we did not want to rush away but wanted a moment on the cemetery to wander and greet the graves where we usually go.  Not that this was a problem for us, we could have walked back to the town centre, but we had a saving angel: one of the Ozzie Wozzie colleagues also attended the service, together with his oldest son – the three and a half year old Stan ! Colleague Bert came with his own car, parked it round the corner at Polygon Wood and that’s how we got back in Zonnebeke.  

Here he is, little Stan at uncle Martie’s grave and of course… Ozzie ! 


We did not count them, but several Australian participants made photos (and then hurried to the coach.)  


A pity that so many missed this beautiful moment : the sun rising over the graves of this cemetery…  


A free breakfast was served in Zonnebeke Chateau gardens. There were plenty of danishes and good strong coffee.  


And I had a chance to introduce Ozzie (and the Ozzie Wozzie project + the Connecting Spirits project) to a few people. Maybe you will recognize some of them :  

Dr Brendan Nelson, the Ambassador of Australia and his wife and daughter.  


The members of the Last Post Association and an alderman of Zonnebeke………………………..  


On the way back home, we stopped in Harelbeke as we wanted to greet the Australian soldiers (no New Zealanders buried there) in ‘our’ cemetery.   


There are the three men of the 48Battalion with aboriginal Rufus Rigney in the middle of the three.

And there is of course Willie Leggett serving in The Life Guards and the first Australian who got killed in the defence of Ypres. 

Lest We Forget

Many thanks to Johan from his fellow FFFAIF members for sharing his Anzac Day experience.

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