Saturday, 26 April 2008

Why wasn't the Queen invited to Villers-Bretonneux?

What a difference one person can make. Almost exactly to the day a year ago the Canadians commemorated their war dead at Vimy. On 9th April 2007 a monument was re-dedicated to remember the bitter Battle of Vimy Ridge in which more than 3,500 Canadian soldiers died. To quote a report: Although it was the first day of the official part of the presidential campaign in France, the main TV news broadcast from France 2 in Paris, rebroadcast by SBS in Australia on Tuesday morning, 10 April 2007, began with film of what the presenter called a rare event: Queen Elizabeth II was on the soil of France.

He went on to describe her appearance was “en tant que souveraine du Canada”. Her Majesty was in France, as Queen of Canada, to preside over the ceremonies to rededicate the great Canadian Memorial of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, fought ninety years ago. The refurbished memorial was originally dedicated by King Edward VIII, as King of Canada, and it stands on what will forever be Canadian land, a mark of the gratitude France bears for Canada for that great victory.

In the presence of over 15,000 Canadians, The Queen, in English and in French, paid tribute to the Canadians who took the ridge, a German stronghold which she said had become a "symbol of futility and despair". "It was a stunning victory," she said. "In capturing this formidable objective, the Canadian Corps transformed Vimy Ridge from a symbol of despair into a source of inspiration. After two-and-a half years of deadly stalemate, it now seemed possible that the Allies would prevail and peace might one day be restored".

Nothing of this kind took place, when on ANZAC Day 2008 the Australians commemorated their war dead. The Age: It was the first Anzac Day dawn service in the Somme, an official ceremony that many hope will carry on in tandem with the Gallipoli tradition — and remind Australians of the 46,000 compatriots who fought and died on the Western Front. …
At dawn yesterday, … 3000 Australian men and women joined their French brothers and sisters on a Somme hilltop to keep the promise made by a long-dead mayor. …
Alan Griffin, Kevin Rudd's … Veterans' Affairs Minister, made clear to the crowd the need for a national realignment of understanding: "It must be said that our strong connection with the Anzacs at Gallipoli has, over the years, overshadowed our commemoration of the Australians who gave so much on the Western Front."

Unlike last year there was no Queen. Obviously the Queen of Australia was not invited to address the people who had gathered in Villers-Bretonneux. There was no Prime Minister, neither an Australian, nor French, and there was hardly any media coverage, except by the Australian media. The French evening news of France 2 that had so prominently reported on the Queen of Canada’s speech, did not even mention that there was an Australian commemoration gathering.

The BBC last year reported: The Queen has paid tribute to thousands of Canadian troops who lost their lives in World War I as she unveiled a restored monument in France. The memorial remembers the bitter Battle of Vimy Ridge in which more than 3,500 Canadian soldiers died. She was joined at the memorial, near Lille, by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his French counterpart, Dominique de Villepin. The ceremony featured prayers, the Last Post and a minute's silence. And this year? The BBC followed their French colleagues’ example and ignored the Australians.

What a difference a person makes. Had the Australian government invited the Queen of Australia to lead the commemoration, it would have received the attention that the war dead deserved. After all: many, if not most of them, died for King and Country. Even if the Australian republicans deny this fact, it remains deep in the heart of the First World War.

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