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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Roo de Kanga

Originally published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas September. 29, 2020

This is an actual official street sign in Peronne, Northern France.

Peronne was captured by the Australian troops of the 14th and 15th Brigades on 2 September 1918 as part of the 2nd Division’s assault on Mont St. Quentin. Within days of the capture of Peronne a number of signs with Australian themed names appeared on the streets of Peronne, painted on bits of old ammunition boxes. These included Wallaby Lane, Wombat Road, Ding Bat Alley, Digger Road, Dinkum Alley but perhaps the most iconic of these was Roo De Kanga. These names were found to be a sharp contrast to the German sign posts which they replaced, such as "Hohenzollern Street," and "Tirpitz Avenue.”

Roo De Kanga is a classic example of the Australian sense of humour, transforming the word Kangaroo into a French sounding street name (as the word 'street' in French is 'rue')

In 1997 in honour of those soldiers the commune of Peronne restored the name Roo De Kanga to a stretch of the rue de St Savour, by the Hotel de Ville, where the sign had hung briefly some seventy nine years before.

On a more personal note my Grandfather fought in the First World War in the trenches not far from Peronne. Before being sent to France he had recently met the young woman who would eventually be his wife and my Grandmother.

He sent letters to her over a two year period which I acquired many years later. About forty in all, they were essentially love letters as well as vague chat about what was going on at the time. Soldiers had to be very careful what they wrote as letters were all censored due to fears of spying. One of the letters was sent from Peronne where they were on a break on R&R from the front line. My future Grandmother was English and doing war work in London when my Grandfather had met her when posted on guard duty at the Tower of London, before being deployed to France.

His family were from west Wales and in one of the letters he recounts that a letter my future Grandmother had sent to his mother had been translated for her into Welsh as my Great Grandmother did not speak English. He was eventually wounded by a shell and also gassed so was lucky to survive.

Having visited Peronne on one of many jaunts to France over the years I knew of the Historial de la Grande Guerre, a museum dedicated to the stories of ordinary soldiers and their lives during the Great War. I donated the letters to the museum so they went full circle ending up back in the town where some were first written.

I wonder if my Grandfather on R&R in Peronne walked past that original hand painted wooden sign made by an Aussie with a sense of humour.

When located in sensitive locations or at sensitive times, soldiers were not allowed to write letters at all and were required to use pre-printed post cards as their only communication.

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