French schools awarded Anzac Day WWI prize by Australian embassy

A web radio, an interactive exhibition, a tree sculpture: three projects focusing on the role of Australian soldiers in France in World War One. In time for Anzac Day commemorations on 25 April, the Australian Embassy in Paris has announced the winners of this year's Sadlier Stokes Prize.

Now in its 31st year, the Sadlier Stokes prize was established by the Australian government to shine a light on a lesser known chapter of World War One history.

Between 1914 and 1918, 313,000 Australian soldiers were deployed on the Western Front. Some 33,000 lost their lives in France.

The prize pays homage to Lieutenant Clifford Sadlier and Sergeant Charlie Stokes, who fought in France on 25 April 1918 in the battle of Villers-Bretonneux in northern France (Somme).

This date is known in Australia is as Anzac day, an annual commemoration of the battles fought by Australian and New Zealand Army Corps overseas, complete with military parades and ceremonies across the country.

The competition is open to all schools across France. Three prizes of 1,500 euros are awarded, one in each category – primary, junior and senior school, using a medium of their choice.

The Sadlier Stokes Prize is usually presented to the winning schools on Anzac Day, but this year's awards were postponed due to the coronavirus lockdown

Young generations pay tribute to bravery

In Cherbourg-en-Cotentin, northwest France (Manche), the students at the Gibert Zola primary school made a web radio which will have its public premiere this Anzac Day.

School director Laure-Amélie Dollon said the broad range of skills needed to put it together was excellent way of promoting cooperation among students, some of whom are Australian.

They gained hands-on experience in all aspects of radio production, from writing to interviewing, recording and presenting. All of that combined with their knowledge of the First World War with questions in English and French.

Over several months, they carried out research and vox pops with members of the community, and prepared interviews with public officials, including descendants of war heroes.

There was even room for traditional dessert recipes, including Anzac biscuits.

It was such a popular exercise that the school has decided to use its prize money to buy equipment to set up a studio in the school so that the web radio can become a regular project.

Anzac Day Challenge exhibition

At Collège Ernest Jacques Barbot junior high school in Metz, eastern France, six classes of students aged 10-15 prepared an exhibition on Australia to share with their fellow students, teachers and parents.

"Anzac Day Challenge" displays colourful posters on all sorts of information about Australia, from the war effort, to the indigenous people, the animals, and the climate.

Over 400 students visited the two-week long exhibition and all participated in a quiz, which involved recognising the national anthem.

The recordings, as well as the WWI poem In Flanders Fields, by Canadian army doctor John McCrae, can be found on the school's blog Le Barbot Curieux.

Ode to peace

Teacher Frédérique-Marie Zercher says the project became an ode to peace, especially in light of the history of the Alsace-Lorraine region which has known centuries of war between Germany and France.

"We are aware of the importance of peace and eager to pass on this message to the next generation," she tells RFI.

"We live in what we call the land of the three frontiers because we are in direct contact with Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany."

"We feel grateful for the Australian and New Zealand soldiers that volunteered to cross the world and help us regain our freedom."

Collège Ernest Jacques Barbot decided to spend the prize money on books in English for the school library.

Courage, friendship, memory

Finally, in the senior school category, 13 students from the Lycée JC Athanase Peltier, a technical school in Ham, northern France (Somme) joined forces to build a tree out of metal pipes, for a project entitled "Je suis courage, amitié et mémoire" (I am courage, friendship, memory).

The tree itself represents life, its roots, a symbol of connected French-Australian history, while the branches represent the values of friendship and courage.

Painted red, blue and white representing the flag colours for both countries, it was decorated with 'leaves' made from paper and wood, covered with small photos and objects with information about the soldiers, their grades and their lucky charms.

"This project was a positive influence on the students and allowed them to bond," metal work teacher Brahim Allioua tells RFI. "The Australian soldiers they were researching were about the same age, and had a similar gregarious spirit."

He says the prize money will be put towards a school field trip to visit the war memorial at Villers-Bretonneux.