Until recently I knew very little about the town of Villers-Bretonneux. All I knew was that there was a village in France whose citizens continued to keep a promise, made almost a century ago, to never forget the Australians who saved them in World War I.
I was fortunate to accompany the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra on its 2007 European tour as a journalist and blogger. Members of the Brass Section told me of their plans to visit Villers-Bretonneux, inviting me to recite the Ode of Remembrance at a private commemorative service for Nelson Ferguson and all those who served. That day in Villers-Bretonneux is deeply etched into the memories of all of us as a truly remarkable and emotional experience. We were warmly welcomed as friends and discovered the depth of feeling that remains for Australia and Australians.
It has become very clear to me that more Australians should know about this place, about what happened there in World War I and the legacy and strength of friendship that remains.
If we want our children to really know about war we should tell them the stories of the people who fought in them. Nelson Ferguson’s story is representative of thousands who served and suffered, and to follow his story to northern France was for me a privilege and a true education.
My thanks to Nelson Ferguson for keeping his diaries and to Nelson’s grandsons Don and Dave Farrands for bringing his story to life. Thanks also to Kaff-eine for her brilliant illustrations and instant understanding, to Anne-Sophie Biguet for the translation and to Bernadette Walters and her team for making this happen.
The Book- The Promise The town that never forgets. Written by Derek Guille, released April 2013. Illustrated by Kaff-eine, Translated by Anne-Sophie Biguet, Published by One Day Hill, Distributed by Scholastic.