As we travelled north west towards Villers Bretonneux I was feeling very sombre and almost hesitant about what I was doing today. I had left home almost one year ago and had not returned since. when I left, one of my main goals was to make sure some of my dad’s ashes ended up next to my great uncle Edwards grave in the Australian memorial cemetery in Villers Bretonneux.
Dad had always wanted to make the trip to France and visit his uncle whom he had never met. Dad was also a military boffin and knew every detail about the battles that occurred on the western front. So before my dad passed away, I said I would get him there. As we headed down into the Somme Valley I was reminded of the stories my dad had told me about the fierce battles that our Australian soldiers and his uncle Ted must have endured.
As we approached the town I felt a sudden sadness come over me and I couldn’t hold back the tears. I couldn’t believe I was entering the town my father had held so dear for many years. I was travelling with my new family on this day. My lovely partner Karine and her father and step-mother. When I mentioned that I wanted to fulfil my dad’s dream they all said can we come along too. Of course I said “Yes!!”
Approaching the memorial you can see it on the horizon, its huge. I had an overwhelming rush of anxiety. Am I doing the right thing, does my family understand why I am doing this, do they know dad and I spoke about this many times. I know my sister gets it. If anyone completely understands this journey, she does. Its what he spoke about doing before he died. That and going to Gallipoli.
I stepped out of the car, walked towards the stairs that took me to the grass viewing point over the Somme Valley and I burst into tears. Not just crying, but a flood of uncontrollable tears that would not abate. The feeling was just incredible, so powerful it was almost unbearable. My mind was racing….you are here mate, you are here…….this is where it all happened, this is where uncle Ted died, this is where dad wanted to come….this is where you get to fulfil his wishes……this is it!
Karine put her arm around me and held me and it was exactly what I needed. The rush of emotion was just insane, I was almost crippled and couldn’t walk. Taking steps forward to go up to the cenotaph was a slow process. Then you read the inscription “Their name liveth for evermore” and the tears kept coming. Walking amongst the headstones, some just read “A soldier of the great war, an Australian regiment”. Its humbling and moving walking among these brave young people who made the ultimate sacrifice.
We walked up to the memorial approaching the far right hand side I began searching for uncle Ted’s name…..it took us about 6-7 minutes to find his name. The four of us were searching. It was lovely that my new family were involved and truly caring enough to help. Finally I found it and I just stared and started to cry again. I didn’t know this man, I will never meet him, I will never understand what he went through. It still reduced me to tears as I sprinkled my dads ashes at the base of the wall under Ted’s name.
I felt a sense of pride knowing that I had given my dad one his greatest wishes, and a sense of sadness that he had always stopped himself from travelling to this place…..not 100% sure why. Maybe it would have been too much for him. I guess I will never know. But I now know for myself after travelling to this place…….all’s is quiet on the western front.