Aussie pair’s own Way of the Cross

Neil Belbin returns the crucifix to the French town of Pozieres.
Neil Belbin returns the crucifix to the French town of Pozieres.

Former Peregian resident Neil Belbin last week completed an emotional journey to France to return a crucifix found by his father in the rubble of a church during the First World War.

Neil, 87, was accompanied on his trip by well-known Coolum resident Dennis Dawson.

In July 1916, after heavy bombardment destroyed the Catholic church in Pozieres on the Western Front, young Australian sapper Private Walter Belbin found a broken ivory crucifix and a wooden telescope box in the ruins.

The 18-year-old put the cross in the box and wrapped it in a red shawl and carried it with him for the rest of the war, bringing it home to Australia in 1919.

Walter was wounded at Pozieres and the telescope box still has his bloodstains on it.

In an official ceremony earlier this month, Neil presented the crucifix, the box and the red shawl to the people of Pozieres to be placed in the town’s rebuilt church.

The crucifix had been left to Neil by his father when he died but a recent family meeting decided it should be returned to France.

Neil said he had been treated like royalty by the people of Pozieres.

“It was very emotional and quite a few tears were shed.”

Neil, who served in the navy from 1938 until 1959, has been enjoying extended stays in Peregian and Coolum for 28 years.

He and wife Betty lived at the Coolum Seaside resort for about eight years, where he first met Dennis and Rhonda Dawson, who managed the complex.

“I asked Dennis about 12 months ago (to go to France) and he jumped at the opportunity,” Neil said.

“I couldn’t have gone away without Dennis. He was like a brother to me.

“We had a great time together.”

Dennis said the trip, which included other Western Front battlefields, had been very moving.

He said seeing so many “unknown” graves “brought tears to your eyes”.

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