Chantefique in France 2024

In April 2024, the Alliance Francaise member's choir Chantefique had the wonderful opportunity to travel to France to perform three concerts in Amiens and Villiers-Bretonneux. Below, Chantefique member Anne Back shares her report of the trip. 

‘Gratitude’ is a buzzword, almost a cliché at the moment but to be so far from home and to be so far from the time when World War I took place, and to feel the appreciation towards our soldiers, was a living, concrete example of the true meaning of the word.

The Chantefique trip to Amiens, Villiers-Bretonneux


The Bailey Bridge in Anzac Park, Toowong.

In 2022 Alliance Française de Brisbane were approached by Retired Lieutenant Colonel George Hulse. He wanted a choir that sang in French to perform at the commemoration of a Bailey Bridge built in Anzac Park, Toowong to honour the “sappers” or engineers who had worked often with no recognition in the battlefields of War, and more particularly to honour their efforts in World War I.

George’s aim was also to pay tribute to the abiding friendship between France and Australia that had been forged in this ‘war to end all wars’. The ceremony in Toowong was attended by politicians and members of the French military and when George told us of a twin bridge which would be built in Amiens, various members of the choir were keen to be involved.

19 of us (from a Choir of approximately 40) made the commitment to go – for a variety of reasons ranging from family connections with the battlefields of the Somme, an interest in military history, an affection and interest in the French culture and language, etc. Those who were embarking on this trip did so with enthusiasm and determination and their hard work for over a year with weekend rehearsals deserves to be commended.

The Bailey Bridge in Amiens, France.

Our first performance and the initial reason for our visit was on April 24 where we sang at the unveiling of the Bailey Bridge in Amiens. The Federal Minister of Veteran Affairs, Matt Keogh, the Mayor of Amiens, local children and school children from Amiens attended the ceremony. As did Channel 9, Australia.

A particular delight was the collaboration of Chantefique with L’Ensemble de Diapason, from the Conservatoire d’Amiens. This wonderful, generous group of fine musicians created a full, rich sound with Chantefique, and friendships have been established across the cultures.

Chantefique's appearance on Channel 9 News, singing together with L'Ensemble de
Diapason from the Conservatoire d'Amiens, at the Amiens Bailey Bridge dedication.

Our second performance was a short concert within the majestic Gothic cathedral of Amiens, organised by Chantefique member, Michele Endicott. This beautiful building, miraculously unscathed in spite of extensive bombing in the two World Wars provided us with glorious acoustics and our audience was very appreciative.

Chantefique at the Basilique Cathédrale Notre Dame d'Amiens, the largest gothic cathedral in France.

Our final performance was an hour-long concert at the Sir John Monash Centre, just outside Villers-Bretonneux. It’s difficult to explain the whirl of emotions as our bus drove through this village and we were witness to homemade decorations of kangaroos in backyards, Australian flags fluttering from fences, and clotheslines with pegged-up messages of abiding affection for Australia. The school itself, established just after World War I with funds gathered in the state of Victoria after Australian soldiers had seen the school’s destruction, was overwhelming. The students here sing our anthem and the sign that hangs on their playground “Do not forget Australia” brought many of us to tears.

‘Gratitude’ is a buzzword, almost a cliché at the moment but to be so far from home and to be so far from the time when World War I took place, and to feel the appreciation towards our soldiers, was a living, concrete example of the true meaning of the word.

Chantefique at the Sir John Monash Centre, where they were warmly welcomed.

Our final performance of 24 songs, French, English and Australian, carefully selected by our conductor, Narelle Todman and supported by our wonderful accompanist Joy Macdougall, and beautiful instrumental soloists (Robin on flute and Josh on guitar) and vocal soloists (Jan, and Mark, who used to sing with Opera Australia) received a standing ovation from a large, predominantly French audience. Staff at the Centre have offered us an invitation to return and perform again, as they were so delighted with our concert.

In conclusion, this trip was about ‘building bridges’ both literally and figuratively. I was honoured to be part of it, representing the connections for which Alliance Française is well known. An ‘alliance’ like a ‘bridge’ connects people and on this journey, we reconnected with old friends (Luc, Soumya, Sylvie) and made new friendships, solidifying the bond between France and Australia.

Anne Back, 2024