One of the most impressive books I read as an impressionable teenager was Erich Maria Remarque’s treatise on the brutality and human waste of war, All Quiet on the Western Front.

Who would have thunk it, as they say, that 60 years later, I would be at the Somme for the centenary of the battle that the Diggers won to break the bloody Western Front stalemate; a battle that led to the German surrender at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month to end the war that supposedly would end all wars. 

I was proud and honoured to lay a wreath on behalf of 6 million Victorians at the Anzac Day dawn service at Villers Bretonneux. The most moving moment was when, in drenching rain, relatives of men who died on this day 100 years ago — grandchildren, great grandchildren — ended the ceremony by placing their own wreaths and flowers. Lest we forget. I met one family of 13 who had all made the journey from Australia to honour one of the fallen.

Also laying wreaths were the Prince of Wales, Malcolm and Lucy Turnbull, Defence Minister Marise Payne, Warren Snowdon (representing Bill Shorten, who was in Afghanistan) former PM Tony Abbott and French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe — who, the previous night, had induced tears with a beautiful, moving, speech about the special relationship between his people and the descendants of the Aussie strangers who had come to save them. And never made it back home.

That speech was part of the official opening of the Monash Centre at Villers Bretonneux — an amazing complex built to honour General Monash and the men who fought under him and died on foreign soil.

(The reason Abbott was there was because, when prime minister, he had stood on the same spot in 2015 to commission the centre and ambitiously promised its completion for Anzac Day 2018.)

***

Speaking of Tony Abbott, who says there can’t be cooperation between politicians who often don’t see eye to eye? Here’s photographic proof. Near the end of the dawn service, the heavens opened and we were drenched. The beanie-clad Member for Warringah, obligingly helped me struggle into a plastic raincoat.

Non-partisan cooperation on Anzac Day.

And speaking of photos. Where’s the paparazzi when you need them? After the service, as the drenched and bedraggled official party tromped off for coffee and croissants in a marquee, several veered away as nature called. It prompted an unlikely trifecta outside the French portaloos: Prime Minister Turnbull, Prince Charles and moi. After small talk, the PM obligingly pointed out that if we only needed a urinal we could use the right door but for a lavatory you’d go left. I went right … the heir apparently needed a throne and went left.

Just as well he hadn’t seen my tweet after the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting unanimously endorsed him as the next Commonwealth chairman: “Pathetic to see elected leaders from Australia, New Zealand, India and Canada doing all that forelock-tugging over a non-elected silverspoon about to replace his mum as Commonwealth head just because he was born in a castle”.

Maybe meeting outside a dunny was appropriate. And, despite recent reports out of London that Chuck always travels with his own toilet seat — he didn’t.

 

Peter Fray

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