As we all isolate ourselves and wait out our current circumstances it now seems certain the usual ANZAC Day remembrance celebrations are not going to happen this year. This is very disappointing to me but, as I always say, it's an ill wind that blows no good. Sitting here, alone in my solitary confinement, thinking of this special day brought back memories of a unique and wonderful ANZAC experience.
It happened three years ago when I was enjoying a most amazing six months living in the little village of Sherrington in the wilds of Wiltshire, England.
Sherrington Stables - My Cosy Cottage in Wiltshire
Just up the road from my cosy cottage was the village of Sutton Veny, where I made many trips to the local book swap set up at the back of the local church. I discovered this community service when I stopped at the Commonwealth War Graves' site in the local graveyard around the village's Saint John the Evangelist church. It turns out Sutton Veny was central to the Australian Army's organisation during World War One. As part of the overall encampment, a hospital had been set up by the military in the village to care for wounded and sick Australians – many of whom suffered and died from the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. As a result, the Commonwealth War Graves site contains 144 graves of Australian soldiers and nurses who died while stationed in the village.
There is still a very close association between Sutton Veny and Australia which is continued to today.
Each year Saint John the Evangelist church holds an ANZAC Service on the Sunday closest to ANZAC Day. But the most memorable event and the one you should see, if you ever get the chance, is the ANZAC Day procession and celebration carried out by the children from the school next door to the church. It is a marvellous tribute to the fallen Australians in an extremely charming ceremony.
In preparation for the ceremony, the children form lovely little posies from flowers and foliage originating in the village (in the olden days the children used to gather flora from the village hedgerows but modern regulations frown upon this practice). Then, on ANZAC Day, they undertake a solemn procession marching behind the Union Jack as well as the Australian and New Zealand flags from their school into the church.
Once inside the church, proud parents fill up the centre seats while the visitors like myself take up the cheap seats around the sides (cheap, they may be, but just as advantageous as any of the others).
Children Speaking about ANZAC Day and what it means to them
During my visit, after several hymns sung by the children, a senior officer of the Australian Army provided some history, an Australian perspective and a heartfelt thank you to the children and other onlookers for the care and love they provide to the fallen Australians. Then the vicar led the gathering in prayer before the singing of the British, Australian and New Zealand national anthems.
Once the church formalities conclude, the children led us all out to the gravesites and, after a brief graveside ceremony, they proudly laid their posies on every one of the 144 Australian graves as a mark of respect to the fallen soldiers and nurses.
A really lovey and moving spectacle that I am so glad to have attended.
Should you ever be in the Wylye Valley of Wiltshire on ANZAC Day, this is a superb way to spend the morning. You can join an ANZAC Day service that holds all the reverence and solemnity of anything you will ever attend. It will make you happy to be Australian.