What the Dawn Service is like at Villers-Bretonneux

THE solemn service commences at 5am.  The ceremony includes a line-up of dignitaries, many who read the final poignant thoughts from the diaries of soldiers. 

As the hour closes and the dark sky lightens to a deep French blue, wreaths of blood red poppies are laid in honour of those who fought in the WW1.

Our tour group meets at the hotel lobby at 1am to begin the hour long journey to the Villers-Bretonneux Dawn Service.

Our experienced group leaders have warned us to dress for extreme cold and we dressed accordingly. Tights under jeans, three layers of jumpers, insulated coasts, ski gloves, beanies, scarves and raincoats (just in case).

But, I have spent most of my life on the Sunshine Coast, so it turns out what I think feels like cold, and what they think feels like cold, are two different temperatures. 

When we get outside and a freezing brick wall hits me, I am left feeling stunned from the icy blow.  My hands, encased in wool lined ski gloves, are the only normal feeling part of me and the gloves were loaned by a very kind tour leader.

I am shivering and horrified by the cold,  and then I think again.  

This time, not about myself, but the thousands of young Aussie soldiers, many like me who had spent most of their lives in a warm climate. 

Nothing could have prepared them for this sort of chill. History also tells of an unseasonal snow fall that year.  It must have been unbearable.

There is an appropriate amount of security to go through before entering the Memorial area. A huge marquee is set up where hot drinks and croissants are served.  It's probably about 3am when we, along with a couple of thousand other people, settle into our chairs. 

But, during that time the melodious tones of a Brisbane choir and army musicians honour the fallen with the sweetest of sounds.

As we walk the three or so kilometres back to our Tour Bus, there is still no warmth in the air, but there is no sign of snow.

Gail Forrer is a guest of Stonestreets Travel and is on their Northern France Battlefields tour.

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