A North East community will host a guest this weekend from the same European region that welcomed its soldiers a century ago.
Claire Du Jardin, of Charleroi, Belgium, will talk on the experiences of Australian soldiers billeted in her area between the signing of the Armistice and their return home.
So much was the Belgian hospitality appreciated that in 1923 when Lockharts Creek needed to be renamed, it was called Charleroi on the suggestion of returned soldiers.
Karral Miller, a fourth generation resident of the Victorian Charleroi, has spent more than four years researching the histories of the 52 men and one woman listed on World War I honour rolls in the Sandy Creek hall.
“Families were big in those days, it’s true, but that’s an incredible contribution from one small area,” she said.
“A quarter of them didn’t come back and of the ones that did come back another 15 of those were discharged as medically unfit. Our group are a sort of a microcosm of what was happening all over the country.”
The communities of Sandy Creek, Charleroi and Red Bluff will honour this service in the Sandy Creek hall with exhibitions and Madame Du Jardin’s talks.
“It’s an extremely big adventure for her because she hasn’t travelled out of Europe before and also she’s coming here to give a presentation in a language that's her second language,” Ms Miller said.
The weekend commemorations, overseen by Kiewa RSL, received funding from the Victorian Veterans Council and the federal government’s centenary program.’
Charleroi, Belgium, was occupied by the Germans throughout the war, yet its residents still then embraced the Australian soldiers.
“Very few people think about what happened after November 11,” she said.
“The war finished but people don’t realise in Europe alone there were 70,000 soldiers still on mainland Europe, not to mention the ones in England, the ones in Middle East and of course they couldn’t all be brought home in the first few weeks.
“They had to find something for them to do until they could get everybody home.”
While in Charleroi, the soldiers attended technical courses, such as building, panel beating, furniture making and baking, assisted with rebuilding programs, organised sporting and other events and some ended up marrying Belgian women.
About 100 of them, having survived the war, died during this period from causes like Spanish flu or accidents.
Ms Miller has visited the European Charleroi, a city of more than 200,000.
“Very different to our Charleroi here; in the census the population here was listed at about 73,” she said.
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