Fascinating history lesson

Councillors Kathryn Bell and Mave Richardson welcome Charlotte Descamps at her talk at Wingham RSL.
Councillors Kathryn Bell and Mave Richardson welcome Charlotte Descamps at her talk at Wingham RSL.

A SHARED link between Belgian military historian, Charlotte Descamps and Australia was explored at a special presentation attended by more than 20 people at Wingham Services Club last week.

Charlotte spoke from her experience and research having lived at Varlet Farm situated in the centre of the battlefields of Third Ypres, part of the Salient which came to shape at the end of 1914.

The Wingham visit, sponsored by the Wingham RSL sub branch, was part of her international tour speaking about life on the battle fields, 94 years on, where the uncovering of ordinance and human remains is still a part of everyday life.

Charlotte says she appreciates the battles were a long way back in time, but feels her talk still is very much relevant in today’s time.

Charlotte’s in-depth knowledge about the area and its history is astounding.

“I don’t get enough time to get it all out,” she laughed.

Her interest in the subject was first raised by chance by an Australian. She was introduced to Belgian battlefield history by military historian and author, John Laffin, who stayed at Charlotte’s bed and breakfast.

“I doubted how someone from down under could know so much about the battle fields living so far away compared to me living on top of them,” she said.

She describes reading Laffin’s books, which were written in English as one of the best things she ever did as it sparked her passion to tell the story. It also greatly assisted her knowledge of the English language.

Charlotte began to use her B and B as a way to bring more people to learn about the battle fields of the Great War.

“In those days, no one believed in battlefield tourism,” she said.

Locals Mave and Eric Richardson stayed at Charlotte’s B and B when they were travelling Europe and enjoyed the unique accommodation which was formed out of a converted cattle shed.

They also valued Charlotte’s extensive knowledge of the area’s history and her willingness to share it with her guests.

After Charlotte’s life recently began to move in a different direction, she decided it was the perfect opportunity to leave the farm and begin travelling to spread her knowledge further.

She contacted hundreds of past guests at the B and B by email and explained her plans to travel around the world. She offered to perform lectures about the battle fields as she went. In no time she had 35 lectures booked in multiple countries.

After receiving news of Charlotte’s visit to Australia, Mave and Eric were more than pleased to have her stay with them to return her warm hospitality and show her the Manning Valley.

Charlotte said she has had a good impression of the Australian people since her tour began on April 18 in Adelaide and has crisscrossed the country.

“People have been so friendly and willing to help,” she said.

“The Belgian people have a different attitude to Australians. They look towards the future and see the past as something that can’t be changed. Australia looks back on the past to learn from its lessons to make sure the same mistakes aren’t made in the future,” she said.

Charlotte also presented to a year 12 class at Wingham High and was intrigued by the flexible, relaxed attitude of students.

She explained in Belgium there is a much bigger gap between the students and the teacher.

Creative pursuits like art, drama and music aren’t included in the curriculum.

“The Australian education system seems to encourage the creative mind,” she said.

Charlotte said she sees the tour as a contribution to say thank you and as a way to pay back what the Australian soldiers did for her country in war time.