Villers-Bretonneux is a village in France that maintains a strong and emotional connection with Australia. In World War I, Australian soldiers saved the village and the people of Villers-Bretonneux promised that they would always remember. More than 100 years later, they still hold that promise dear to their hearts.
To this day, the village of Villers-Bretonneux honours the memory of the Australian soldiers who fought, and died, in its defence. The villagers maintain a cemetery dedicated to the soldiers who died during the battle in 1918. A school was built in the village using funds donated by families in Victoria, Australia soon after the war. Many years later, the village returned this favour by donating money to help rebuild schools in Victoria after the terrible 2009 Black Saturday bushfires.
Loyalty, friendship, connection – all maintained for many decades between people in countries on opposite sides of the globe, most of whom weren’t even present during those terrible battles of the First World War.
Inspired by the life of Nelson Ferguson, a soldier present at the battle of Villers-Bretonneux, a small section of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra chose to visit the village during a tour of Europe. A band of 12 instrumentalists known as the Melbourne Villers Bretonneux Brass Ensemble organised to travel to the village to visit the graves of the soldiers and play music composed in their honour.
The story of their visit, the emotion and connection felt by both the musicians and the villagers, is shared in both English and French in this beautifully illustrated picture book. The background, the visit itself, the story of Nelson Ferguson’s life and the sense of connection between the people involved is incredibly touching and inspiring.
I cried reading The Promise and I imagine that it won’t matter how many times I read it, I will cry every time. This is a beautiful book sharing an important perspective on the impact of war through the generations. It is a story that will touch your heart.