The Pipes and Drums, National Servicemen’s Memorial Band, has just returned from another successful trip to New Caledonia to take part in Bastille Day Celebrations.
This is the fourth time the band has undertaken the trip.
The band spent seven days on the island as guests of the French military and performed 10 concerts as well as playing for two remembrance services dedicated to military personal who paid the supreme sacrifice in the many conflicts the French have been involved in – including WWI, WWII, Vietnam, and a number of conflicts in African countries.
The National Servicemen’s Memorial Band was also given the honour of leading the Bastille Day Parade in Noumea – which is like the Australian Anzac Day but only for serving troops.
The visitors were billeted in the French Army Base, ‘Barracks Artillerie’ which is the Head Quarters of the French Foreign Legion on the Island.
The night before the Bastille Day Parade the band led about 5800 people on a march around the main part of Noumea. This is called the Lantern Parade as the City Council of Noumea gives all residents a paper lantern with a tea candle inside.
After the march the band played a concert in the main city park, which finished with thunderous applause from the more than 8000 people assembled, who sang with gusto to the band’s rendition of La Marseillaise – the French National Anthem.
The band also visited a French frigate, which was stationed at the naval base, and played on the helicopter flight deck for the enjoyment of the crew.
This year the band took two very talented highland dancers – Naomi Summers and Heather Noble – who enthralled crowds wherever the band played. In lots of cases it was the very first time they had seen highland dancing.
was given a civic reception in the club rooms of the Anciens Combattants de Nouvelle-Calédonie, the French equivalent of our RSL.
The band was met by the Australian Consul to New Caledonia as well as heads of various military and civic organisations.
Members were plied with a selection of very nice French wines, cheeses, and other French foods (“it’s a hard life, but someone had to do it”), and played a number of tunes for the assembled guests.
During the visit band members were made ‘honorary members’ of the French Reserve Forces in recognition of their contribution to Australian/French relationships over the past eight years.
Two trips to Paita, a small village situated about 35km from Noumea resulted in many friendships being cemented over a lot more good French wines and cheeses.
The band played for the Remembrance Service at Paita for the many French and Allied sailors killed in various wars.
They also played at five local schools, where kids were enthralled by the bagpipes, and all wanted to be in photos with band members.
On the final Saturday, the band took part in another service at Mount Gilds, the headquarters of the Native Infantry Battalion.
Once again band members were treated to a magnificent spread of wines, cheeses, a variety of delicious French pastries and seafood.
John Arnfield, Honorary Secretary/Joint Pipe Major of the Pipes and Drums, National Servicemen’s Memorial Band, said, “We came back on Sunday 16 July quite a few kilos heavier and very tired after a full-on programme during the seven days”.
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