It is a beautiful day here in Villers-Bretonneux, France. The town that is synonymous with Australia’s greatest fighting victory in World War I. The town that saw the might of the German army turned back from virtually a free ride into Paris and victory. The area of the Somme that is at last gaining greater respect for the fighting Aussies and Kiwis despite the incompetence of their British overlords.
I am here on a pilgrimage to visit the site where my grandfather John Barnes Evans was killed in nearby Lagincourt 100 years ago, in April. Naturally I did not know my mother’s father but I do know what a tough life my grandmother had with three young children during the depression.
I have made VB my headquarters. How ironic is the anagram “VB” in association with Australia not to mention that fine Adelaide Crows player Nathan Van Berlo of VB fame himself.
I am also here to talk to the children of Grade 5 and 6 at the Victoria School about my grandfather, my love of Australian Football and perhaps even a mention of my grand fils if asked .
Class teacher Guillaume Fournet had contacted me and I was only too willing to lend my knowledge and also get back in the classroom.
Guillaume or Bill is the teacher responsible for teaching the children Australian-English and making sure that they are conversant with why Australia is important to the Victoria school and the town of VB.
After an initial address to les enfants in French. Well received I say with pride and a little help from Bill. It really was the Bill and Bob show. I then moved on to what the children wanted to hear. The game of Australian football, the Geelong Football Club and my grand fils.
Fortunately I had prepared for the Geelong Cats before I left home last week and I was laden with footballs, team photographs, press releases, pencil sharpeners, a caricature of le grand fils and other memorabilia.
Firstly I spoke about the club and its history which was a piece of cake seeing I had barracked for them for over 70 years. Great interest was shown in why the Cats had changed their nickname, my rendition of the theme song (met with applause), the dress of Troy West, the premierships and the Brownlow Medals.
The pics I had on the power-point presentation had said it all really. The blue and white army attending the football brought gasps from the children.
Gill/Bill was one step in front of me and he had prepared a highlights package of le grand fils which to my surprise I had not seen myself. It was Geelong vs North Melbourne last year.
Telling the students le grand fils was number 35 they would let out a cheer every time he had the ball in his hands (which was most of the day) and clapped when the Cats goaled. Their response to this was fantastic with many questions being asked. Questions like how many players in a team, how far do they run, how long is a game etc etc. The interest shown was fantastic.
Knowing that Gill/Bill was aware of le grand fils I had brought along the Foxtel promotion of him surfing in his suit. This was met with much laughter and referred to him as “James Bond” by some of the kids.
Then came the biggest trial of the day for moi and that was to give the students a lesson on the game of Australian Rules on the asphalt surface of the playground. The backdrop to the playground on the shelter sheds said (in green and gold) DO NOT FORGET AUSTRALIA with a Flanders poppy on either side.
We went through the process of kicking, handball, bouncing the ball and marking for nigh on 30 minutes until we had to call a stop. The kids where full of enthusiasm in their endeavours and wanted to continue but I am afraid the coach (moi) had had enough by then physically. They found bouncing the ball the hardest but then you must remember, that to 90% of them this was the first time they had seen the game both on TV and actually tried physically. Lets face it; how many of you can bounce the ball well on asphalt?
Back into the class room and tres bien from everyone. I was then given a beautiful rendition of our truly Australian National Anthem, “Waltzing Matilda,” followed by a presentation.
Monsieur Fournet in thanking me said he had 100 friends who will now barrack for Geelong and I know for sure that the youngsters who took part will all become a part Greatness.
I left the school glad that I had made it my business to go there, promote the game and thank the youngsters of VB for remembering Australia and also for remembering to barrack for the greatest team of all.