GUARDIAN 4: Mdme Ginette Provost
In the building adjoining the school is a door that leads directly to the footpath. The tiny Madame Ginette, who was busy playing Bingo the day before, is nodding and ushering us in.
‘I heard stories about the First World War during my whole childhood,’ she says. ‘My husband and I were both born in Villers. Mum was born in Villers. All my family on my mum’s side were born here. My husband’s parents were born here.’
However, everyone was evacuated during the war years.
‘During the First War, there was no one left in Villers,’ she says. ‘Mum left with her family during the First World War because she was young. My father had left to go to war. He immediately volunteered. He was in Alsace fighting, near Verdun.’
Madame Ginette says it was the Australians who fought in Villers to defend the town. She pulls a photo album across the table, explaining that it contains family pictures of the First World War.
‘What is interesting is that I have checked it, but there are no Australians in it,’ she says. ‘My father didn’t have any contacts with the Australians.’
However, that did not deter him from commemorating what they had done during the battles in the area.
‘In 1920, my father was named teacher at Villers-Bretonneux,’ she says. ‘In his class there was “Let’s never forget Australia” written in big letters. It is written in the yard as well, so that they understand what happened.’
Madame Ginette says she was also a teacher and president of the school in Amiens. When she retired she returned to live in her parents’ house. As a member of the Franco-Australian Museum Committee, she remembers how it grew over the years.
‘We started collecting things from the war,’ she says. ‘People started bringing pictures and things of what they had. Bit by bit, the museum grew. I used to open the museum when it was closed, after hours. If Australian people came, I would open it up for them. We wanted to thank the Australians.’
She says April 25 is a day of remembrance in Villers-Bretonneux.
‘We always put the Australian flag up,’ she says. ‘The Australians are always very well received, welcomed. In Villers, everyone has always spoken about the Australians. At school, in every class, we will never forget the Australians. We owe them a lot.’