Taking a look back on the European leg of the Legacy Centenary Torch Relay
Throughout 2023, Legacy will be celebrating their centenary with The Legacy Centenary Torch Relay, presented by Defence Health, marking 100 years of service to veterans and their families. As a principal partner of the event, Thales Australia accompanied the torch relay as it made its way through Europe. We’ve captured some highlights below.
Sunday 23 April - Pozieres British Cemetery
The first official event of the Legacy Centenary Torch Relay (LCTR), the ceremony marked the commencement of the 50,000km journey of the Centenary Torch. The Mayor of Pozieres, Monsieur Dominique Bierwald, welcomed attendees to the town, before Eric Easterbrook, Director of Legacy Australia, spoke about the importance of Legacy, how the charity was founded on a promise between two mates, and the need for continual support to ensure Legacy can continue their vital work. The Hon. Matt Thistlethwaite, Assistant Minister for Defence and Assistant Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, then spoke about Legacy’s criticality for veteran support, and commended the legatees (the over 4,000 volunteers around Australia who work directly with Legacy families) for all they have achieved and continue to achieve for the beneficiaries.
Following the speeches, LT Col Anthony Birch brought the lit Centenary Torch into the cemetery where it was passed to Eric, before undertaking a ‘torch kiss’ (where the flame is passed from one torch to the other) with Sarnia Birch, Director of Legacy Australia who had travelled to Pozieres with her daughter Megan. Then, the flame passed to the Hon. Matt Thistlethwaite, then to Monsieur Dominique Bierwald, and then to the corporate sponsors with Nick de Bont, Chief Security Officer and Chair of Thales Veterans Committee representing Thales Australia. Also representing Thales Australia was Mark Hilton, VP Digital Systems and Executive Sponsor of the Veterans Committee.
“It really was an honour to represent the Thales Australia Veterans Committee and be one of the Torch Bearers at this moving ceremony. Truly an incredible experience” Nick de Bont.
To read more about the Pozieres British Cemetery, click here.
Tuesday 25 April – Anzac Day Dawn Service at the Australian National Memorial in Villers-Bretonneux
At dawn on Anzac Day 1918, Australian soldiers played a vital role in retaking the town of Villers-Bretonneux from German forces for the second time. The Australian National Memorial now stands on the site of the battle.
Mark Hilton, Andy Kirkpatrick OAM, and Nick de Bont, representing Thales Australia as well as the Veterans Committee, attended the Dawn Service and were all incredibly moved by the ceremony. People started making their way to the memorial from 03:00 with mostly those from Australia and France in attendance, evident through the snatches of ‘Bonjour’ and ‘Merci’ mixed with ‘hello’ and ‘thanks mate’ punctuating the otherwise still and silent morning. Prior to the Dawn Service, and then throughout, stories were told of those who had made the ultimate sacrifice, alongside images of some of the Fallen projected on to the memorial. The Australian Army Band Corps played stirring pieces throughout the Dawn Service, along with the Australian and French national anthems. The Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Mark Hammond delivered the Call of Remembrance.
“The legacy of the Anzacs is one of bravery, selflessness and sacrifice,” Vice Admiral Hammond said.
“Commemorating Anzac Day is an opportunity for us to reflect on the scale of their selfless sacrifice and the debt of gratitude we owe to those who served, those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and the families they left behind.
To read more about the Anzac Day Dawn Service, please click here.
Tuesday 25 April – Anzac Day Service, Villers-Bretonneux Town Square
Following the Anzac Day Dawn Service, a service was held in the town square of Villers-Bretonneux, with those in attendance including The Hon. Matt Thistlethwaite, Assistant Minister for Defence and Assistant Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Vice Admiral Mark Hammond, Chief of Navy, and Her Excellency Ms Gillian Bird, Australia's Ambassador to France.
The town’s enduring love and gratitude towards Australia was evident, and in abundance, with Australian flags, felt kangaroos, paintings, signs and notes of thanks dotted on houses throughout the town. In fact, there is still a sign that says ‘Never forget Australia.’
Following the service in the town square, the team visited the Franco-Australian museum which tells the story of the Australians on the Western Front in 1918 and the part they played in the battles to defend Villers Bretonneux.
Click here to read more about the museum.
Wednesday 26 April - The Last Post at the Menin Gate Memorial, leper Belgium
Tens of thousands of British and Empire troops remain ‘missing’ in France and Belgium. Some lie in nameless graves while the remains of others have never been found. The names of Australia’s 6,000 missing in Belgium are engraved on the walls of the Menin Gate.
Each night at 20:00, in an act of remembrance, buglers play The Last Post, the traditional final salute to the Fallen. This year, as part of the LCTR, wreaths were laid by Legacy and, throughout the ceremony, two torch bearers stood stoically, holding the lit torch until the ceremony drew to a close.
Dignitaries in attendance included Dr Brendon Nelson, and Major General Matthew Hall, Australian Military Representative to NATO and EU with Andy Kirkpatrick, Sales Director Digital Systems representing Thales Australia.
You can read more about the Menin Gate Memorial here.
28 April – Activities in London
Meeting with The King, His Majesty King Charles III
In what can only be described as an incredible last-minute surprise, Legacy Centenary Relay Torch Bearers held an audience with The King, His Majesty King Charles III who spent half an hour speaking with everyone in the room, and even took a moment to hold the Legacy Torch. His Majesty also spoke briefly with Dan Keighran, VC, Thales Australia’s Key Account Manager Joint Capability.
The Legacy Centenary Torch Relay takes to the streets of London
Location wise, London was always going to be a little more complex and a little more difficult to navigate – or so we thought! However, the Metropolitan Police (the Met Police) made things easier for us all by cordoning off roads in order for the Torch Relay to pass unchallenged through the traditionally bustling streets.
A guard accompanying the relay was asked whether this served as good practice for the upcoming coronation to which he replied, while laughing, ‘yeah, kind of, but that’s going to be a little bigger and have a few more million people.’
That being said, the streets were lined with people, some cheering, some curious as to the event, but all taking great joy in witnessing the sight of a lit Centenary Torch making its way through London, flanked by a representative from the Royal Australian Army, the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal Australian Airforce.
Dan Keighran, VC, and torch bearer for Thales Australia, received the torch in front of Buckingham Palace before making his way to the next torch bearer, Defence Health CEO Joanne Kadlecik.
Saturday 29 April – The Legacy Centenary Gala Ball
The Gala Ball was hosted by London Legacy and served as an opportunity to celebrate, while commemorating, Legacy’s incredible centenary of service to veterans and their families. There were inspirational talks by beneficiaries of London Legacy, as well as a stirring speech by Dr Brendon Nelson who also specifically mentioned and commended Thales Australia and the amount of support provided to Legacy over the years.
The European leg of the Legacy Centenary Torch Relay was incredible to be a part of, a moving and inspirational experience for all those who played a part.
More on the Legacy Centenary Torch Relay can be found here.
More on Thales Australia’s commitment to veterans and their families: Thales Veterans Committee