For the first time in history a member of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) has actively participated in the Eternal Flame ceremony, which is conducted every evening beneath the world-renowned Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
Petty Officer Don Blackley is in France as part of a small contingent of Australia’s Federation Guard, supporting commemoration activities marking the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied landing on 6 June 1944, which marked the beginning of the end of the Nazi occupation of western Europe.
“I was really proud and honoured when selected for this task. Originally, I was hoping for Anzac Day tasking, but when I found out I was going on this job, I felt very proud to be part of a massive international commemoration,” Petty Officer Blackley said.
“Also, being the first RAN member to act as flag bearer during the Eternal Flame ceremony at such a historic location is just icing on the cake.”
The Eternal Flame ceremony is a time-honoured tradition in Paris. Every evening at 6:30 the flame is rekindled, and veterans lay wreaths decorated with red, white and blue near the flickering flame. It burns in the darkness to recall the sacrifice of an unknown French soldier who gave his life during World War I.
Australia’s Federation Guard is accompanying a group of Australian World War II veterans, all who flew Royal Air Force combat missions in support of the D-Day campaign.
“It was definitely breathtaking to stand there with the Australian National Flag in my hands and have Australian and French veterans lined up on either side - it was really was great to be part of something like that,” Petty Officer Blackley said.
The Federation Guard, veterans, members of Australia’s military Attaché in France and staff from the Department of Veterans Affairs will attend the official commemoration ceremony in Normandy on 6 June. Smaller ceremonies will also be held at Ellon Airfield as well as in Villers-Bretonneux, during which the veterans and Prime Minister Tony Abbott will lay wreaths.