Governor-General Peter Cosgrove’s trip to France has started with a series of events commemorating Australia’s military history.
A day after arriving in Paris, Sir Peter headed to the Somme region on Sunday for a packed itinerary across former battlefields.
The trip marks Australia’s first state visit to France, and with that honour comes all the security bells and whistles one would expect.
French gendarmes surrounded the block outside the Amiens hotel awaiting the Australian delegation, the street outside cleared ahead of its arrival.
Driving down an empty road through the countryside, the governor-general’s motorcade with flashing lights looked somewhat out of place as he headed to Adelaide Cemetery to lay a wreath at the original resting place of the unknown Australian soldier.
There was a stark contrast again at the Australian National Memorial in Villers-Bretonneux, where the attire of the officials, most in suits, seemed at odds with the rugged-up, casual clothing of Aussie tourists visiting the site.
However, the Anzac spirit was quite apparent – Sir Peter willingly posing for photos and chatting with everyone he met.
Tracey and David Evans from Adelaide were among those who spoke to him, pointing out Mr Evans’s great-uncle’s name on the memorial.
“It was really lovely meeting him. He was so gracious and said ‘Hello’ as we came in, so it really makes this that bit more special,” Ms Evans told AAP.
Sir Peter said the state-visit status was an honour, and an indication of the bond between France and Australia.
“It is just a reaffirmation of the unique nature of the relationship, which goes back a century and spans the globe.”
Sunday’s events also included a lunch hosted at Chateau de Bertangles, an Australian Corps headquarters in 1918.
A number of prominent Australians attended the lunch, including Victoria Cross recipient Corporal Daniel Keighran and cycling star Cadel Evans.
Amid reports of dwindling crowds for European Anzac services this year, the governor-general reflected on how places like the chateau could also provide a learning opportunity for Australians visiting the Western Front.
He said he would like to see higher visitation levels at such places.
“This was a massive enterprise for a young nation to be part of a huge coalition in the titanic struggle for Europe,” Sir Peter said.
“Places like Bertangles here, is where an Aussie general and his staff planned great military movements which were tremendously successful amid the previous carnage.
“It’s an educational place … which provides a counterpoint to those endless acres of headstones.”