Before the trip I had researched the first world war and believed I was fairly knowledgeable and I did not think that I could ultimately learn a lot more than what I had read from books, the internet and my History teachers. But when I went to France I learnt so many things that I could not have thought up, listened to or read in New Zealand. I was touched by thought provoking stories and facts from Historians about the origin of the battles that took place. By simply being there I was enriched by what I could see around me and I was moved by the willingness from the people in both France and Belgium to share their knowledge and stories of battles, where horrific events had taken place and their people that were lost.
Some of the highlights of the trip for me personally were meeting (again) and being with the French Young Ambassadors and their families, a massive thank you to Adrien and Julie’s family for hosting me. Being able to see the sites where the battles took place and where my ancestors fought or died. Speaking to people from the Embassy, Mission du Centenaire, Mayors of Le Quesnoy and Longueval and many more inspiring French. Being able to experience ‘Bastille Day’ or La fête de nationale as well as being Underneath the Arc de Triomphe when Les Champions du Monde bus went by. Experiencing life with the French Ambassadors going to ‘Bowling World’ in Arras and going to the brand new swimming pool in Peronne. Shopping where or when we could and buying presents for friends, family and teachers. Watching the French play in the semi-final in Belgium, against Belgium, and watching them play and win the final in Paris amongst the most incredible atmosphere. I had many more highlights, too many to count!
I was the first person in my family to see where my great great uncles fought and died. This trip allowed me the opportunity to do that on behalf of my family and I am extremely grateful for it. Otherwise it may have been many years before I was able to remember and honour my family who fought for my freedom today. As mentioned in previous blogs, none of my ancestors had a grave but those who died in France are commemorated on the memorial walls at both Tyne Cot Cemetery in Belgium and Caterpillar Valley Cemetery in France. It was incredibly special and moving to have been able to touch their names and finally be there on behalf of my family.
The role as a Young Ambassador of New Zealand enabled me to speak on behalf of the other Young Ambassadors and New Zealand to both the Mayor of Le Quesnoy and the Mayor of Longueval. On behalf of the Christchurch RSA I was able to give a koha or cadeau or gift that inscripted the following words, “Presented by the Christchurch Memorial RSA to Veterans of France in support for the France – New Zealand Youth Ambassador Programme 2018.” This was an honour and privilege to give this gift, where I decided to give it to the Mayor of Longueval which had a personal connection for me in regards to two of my Great Great Uncles and where they fought or consequently died.
This trip and responsibility has really driven my current decision to want to pursue a career in Foreign Affairs, which was fuelled further by our visits to both the French Embassy in New Zealand and New Zealand Embassy in France. Although I am still in High School I am looking at doing a Bachelor of Law with some History papers and a Bachelor of Arts Majoring in Political Science with some French Papers.
A big thank you to all people who helped to make this trip a reality, especially Jennifer, Robin, Gerard, both Pascales and Donny. Another huge thank you to my family, who supported me, helped me out with research and had a particular interest in both the history of the war and our ancestors who fought and/or died there. Lastly, a massive thank you to the Christchurch RSA, Cashmere Rotary and Cashmere-Spreydon Community Board for your financial help. This amazing trip would not have occurred for me without you.
To the Young New Zealand (Kiwi) Ambassadors, I each learnt lessons from you all. Rebecca, your organisational skills and wit (especially the winks), Shani, your warmth and impeccable leadership skills (and the ability to be in the background of every photo) Katie, your light-heartedness and French grammar knowledge (also…hello?) Jeremy, your mana and memory of small things (thanks for being my travel buddy but could you speak louder please?) and lastly Eleana, your humour and fashion wisdom (Thank you for being Year 12 too and becoming a best friend.)
We shared late night chats, a hand crafted bingo board and now we share many memories. Thank you for being an absolute joy to be around, best wishes for all of the incredible futures you have ahead of you and no doubt we shall see each other again before we know it.