Birdwood High School revisits WW1

Birdwood High School revisits WW1There’s a connection that we all have with history; to people, stories, countries and events, such as war. These things aren’t always apparent in our day to day life except for that very life itself. In 2008, 22 students from Birdwood High School and Meningie Area School travelled to Europe to uncover and commemorate some of their own historical connections.

This was the 4th trip to the Western Front, for Birdwood High School history teacher, Julie Reece. Her passion is history and her students say she is an infectious teacher, who plies them with enthusiasm and wonder for the history that has shaped our nation and ourselves. Julie says the students “live and breathe history on these trips, it’s a pilgrimage, not a holiday.”

An astounding amount of organisation and fund raising has gone into each and every journey. The level of commitment from Julie, the schools, the students, parents and friends is overwhelming. Two books have been written about previous trips with all the proceeds going towards the next journey, a selfless act because rarely can the students go more than once.

Luckily, 18 year old Florence (Flo) Bourke from Birdwood, managed two trips. Her first experience in 2006 was a real eye opener, touching her deeper than she was expecting and as a result of her experiences and Julie’s influence, she changed her career path to teaching. Flo then went on her second trip in 2008, as a leader, and this is where she paid homage to the soldiers from WWI. You see, Flo is a musician, songwriter and singer. She has played guitar and piano since very young, and writes and sings her own music. Flo said about the trip, “it’s the immensity of it all, every where you go there are memorials, headstones and battle fields” and it dawned on her that the young men fighting in WWI were her age. She wrote about this revelation in her song called “Commemoration Story”.

There’s an old Bechstein piano in Poperinge, Belgium, in a museum called Talbot House. It was played many times during WW1, when Talbot House was a sanctuary; a place of rest and refuge for the young soldiers, needing to make a brief escape from the ravages of the Western Front. A very large photograph of the soldiers sits behind the piano, seemingly surrounding it, like they used to do in person in 1916. Flo Bourke sat on the stool in 2008 and played her song called “Talbot House”, a tribute to the sanctuary, the soldiers, and about the very piano she was playing.

The song engulfs you in its melody and storyline; it twists and turns, taking you through the chilling fields of the Western front. Flo’s lilting accent dances along harmoniously with the old piano. Snippets of an old favourite, “It’s a long way to Tipperary” intertwine within the song, making it one wholly magical tune. It’s moving enough on its own, but once you know the history of the piano and of Talbot House, the story of the soldiers who visited and add this all together with the talent and insight of an 18 year old girl from half way across the world, it just blows you away. The song was recorded that day in Belgium and a music video has been created by Birdwood High School, year 12 student, Tristan Smith. It not only includes footage of Flo playing the piano, but snippets of scene’s from original photographs, taken during the war.

Rita Lindsay, a student from Meningie Area School was also on the 2008 trip, commemorating family members. Rita’s people are the Ngarrindjeri’s from the Coorong and they have a profound connection to the Western Front. Five Ngarrindjeri soldiers went to fight in WW1, side by side with other Australians. Rita, like Flo, has written some heartfelt songs, one in particular is quite moving called “Aboriginal Soldiers”.

In March this year, Rita and Flo, with help from Julie Reece, Eric Bogle and Gavin O’Loghlen (Locrian Records, Lenswood) have produced a remarkable CD called “Connecting Spirits: Songs of Remembrance”. It can be purchased for $20 by phoning Birdwood High School on 8568 5100 (postage an extra $5). All proceeds go towards the next school trip to the Western Front in 2010, but the real reason you should buy it lies in the way it digs deep into your soul and emotions.

Telling the story of a soldier at their grave site moved these teenagers in memorable ways and affected their future paths. Books, Music Video’s, CD’s, TV and world-wide radio interviews have occurred due to these pilgrimages. If you want to find out more please visit the website:

Birdwood High School and Meningie Area School students, with teachers and helpers, proudly displaying the Australian flag and the Ngarrindjeri people’s flag, at the Australian National Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux in France.