Pictures: Australians, Kiwis Mark Anzac Day 100 Years On From Crucial Battle

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AFP — Thousands of Australians gathered in the pre-dawn chill on the Somme in northern France on Wednesday for a poignant ceremony in memory of the soldiers who fought and died on the Western Front, a century on from the end of World War I.

Some 8,000 Australians made the round-the-world trip to mark a special centenary Anzac Day, Australia’s national day of remembrance on the Somme, scene of some of the most brutal battles of the 1914-18 conflict.

Tony McNiff said it was “spine tingling and extremely emotional” to have made it to the Australian National Memorial, just outside the town of Villers-Bretonneux, the site of a major victory for Australian troops in 1918.

CURRUMBIN, AUSTRALIA – APRIL 25: Members of the Mudgeeraba light horse troop take part in the ANZAC dawn service on April 25, 2018 in Currumbin, Australia. Australians commemorating 103 years since the Australian and New Zealand Army Corp (ANZAC) landed on the shores of Gallipoli on April 25, 1915, during World War 1. Anzac day is a national holiday in Australia, marked by a dawn service held during the time of the original Gallipoli landing and commemorated with ceremonies and parades throughout the day. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – APRIL 25: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (C) lays a wreath at the Auckland War Memorial Museum Cenotaph on April 25, 2018 in Auckland, New Zealand. In 1916 the first Anzac Day commemorations were held on 25 April. It’s been 102 years since the Australian and New Zealand Army Corp (ANZAC) landed on the shores of Gallipoli during World War 1. Anzac day is a national holiday in New Zealand, marked by a dawn service held during the time of the original Gallipoli landing and commemorated with ceremonies and parades throughout the day. (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

“We’re really among the privileged few to be among the 8,000 here,” McNiff, who served 35 years in the Australian air force, told AFP.

Of the 295,000 Australians who came to fight on the Western Front, some 46,000 died — huge losses for the young nation, where the sacrifice remains deeply ingrained in the national identity.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, his French counterpart Edouard Philippe and Britain’s Prince Charles all paid tribute at the ceremony to the young men who volunteered for a war on the other side of the globe.

CURRUMBIN, AUSTRALIA – APRIL 25: Members of the Albert Battery stand guard on April 25, 2018 in Currumbin, Australia. Australians commemorating 103 years since the Australian and New Zealand Army Corp (ANZAC) landed on the shores of Gallipoli on April 25, 1915, during World War 1. Anzac day is a national holiday in Australia, marked by a dawn service held during the time of the original Gallipoli landing and commemorated with ceremonies and parades throughout the day. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

CURRUMBIN, AUSTRALIA – APRIL 25: Member of the Mudgeeraba light horse troop takes part in the ANZAC dawn service on April 25, 2018 in Currumbin, Australia. Australians commemorating 103 years since the Australian and New Zealand Army Corp (ANZAC) landed on the shores of Gallipoli on April 25, 1915, during World War 1. Anzac day is a national holiday in Australia, marked by a dawn service held during the time of the original Gallipoli landing and commemorated with ceremonies and parades throughout the day. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

VILLERS-BRETONNEUX, FRANCE – APRIL 24: An Australian flag is seen on a grave prior to the opening of the Sir John Monash Centre at Australian National Memorial on April 24, 2018 in Villers-Bretonneux, France. The opening of the Sir John Monash Centre and the Centenary of the Battle of Villers-Bretonneux on Anzac Day 2018 in France are important commemorations in the last year of the Anzac Centenary 2014-18 period. (Photo by Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images)

“The deeds of these young men have echoed down the years,” Turnbull told the crowd, who huddled in the grey dawn as the Last Post bugle call rang out from the memorial’s tower.

“They suffered lice, rats, gas,” Philippe said, urging leaders to keep memories of the war’s horrors alive.

“They suffered bombardments, lives cut short, cold and hunger.”

Like Turnbull, he paid tribute to his country’s forces serving around the world in current conflicts, from Syria to anti-jihadist troops in west Africa.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – APRIL 25: Servicemen make their way down Elizabeth Street during the ANZAC Day parade on April 25, 2018 in Sydney, Australia. Australians commemorating 103 years since the Australian and New Zealand Army Corp (ANZAC) landed on the shores of Gallipoli on April 25, 1915, during World War 1. Anzac day is a national holiday in Australia, marked by a dawn service held during the time of the original Gallipoli landing and commemorated with ceremonies and parades throughout the day. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – APRIL 25: Ray Minniecon poses in Australian Light Horse Brigade uniform prior to the Coloured Diggers March on April 25, 2018 in Sydney, Australia. The annual Coloured Diggers March started 15 years ago, to recognise and celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who served in the Australian Armed Forces. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

VILLERS-BRETONNEUX, FRANCE – APRIL 25: Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Prince Charles, Prince of Wales attend the ceremony of the Centenary of the Battle of Villers-Bretonneux at the Australian National Memorial on April 25, 2018 in Villers-Bretonneux, France. The opening of the Sir John Monash Centre and the Centenary of the Battle of Villers-Bretonneux on Anzac Day 2018 in France are important commemorations in the last year of the Anzac Centenary 2014-18 period. (Photo by Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images)

Prince Charles said the “costly sacrifice” of the Australian troops — who had an average age of just 23 — would “forever be part of Australia’s identity”.

– Crucial battle –

Dawn at Wednesday also marked 100 years to the day since Australian troops’ breakthrough in Villers-Bretonneux, when they pulled off a major counter-offensive against German troops alongside British and French forces.

The audacious operation stopped a German advance that would have otherwise swept on to nearby Amiens, a strategic city for allied forces.

Monique and Yves Degremont, a retired couple from the northern city of Lille among the few French nationals in the crowd, said they had wanted to give thanks to Australian troops.

“If the Australians hadn’t been there, things might have been different,” Monique said.

Britain’s Prince Harry (2R) and his US fiancee Meghan Markle (C) walk with New Zealand’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Jerry Mateparae, during attend an Anzac Day dawn service at Hyde Park Corner in London on April 25, 2018. – Anzac Day commemorates Australian and New Zealand casualties and veterans of conflicts and marks the anniversary of the landings in the Dardanelles on April 25, 1915 that would signal the start of the Gallipoli Campaign during the First World War. (Photo by Tolga AKMEN / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read TOLGA AKMEN/AFP/Getty Images)

VILLERS-BRETONNEUX, FRANCE – APRIL 25: A man wrapped in an Australian flag walks past graves at the Australian War Memorial after the ceremony of the Centenary of the Battle of Villers-Bretonneux on April 25, 2018 in Villers-Bretonneux, France. The opening of the Sir John Monash Centre and the Centenary of the Battle of Villers-Bretonneux on Anzac Day 2018 in France are important commemorations in the last year of the Anzac Centenary 2014-18 period. (Photo by Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images)

Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton lays a wreath during a ceremony marking the 103rd anniversary of ANZAC Day at Lone Pine Cemetery on the Gallipoli (Gelibolu) penisula, Turkey on April 25, 2018. – Anzac Day, named for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) marks the April 25 anniversary of the ill-fated 1915 landing of troops belonging to the two nations in Turkey’s Gallipoli peninsula during World War I. (Photo by OZAN KOSE / AFP) (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)

Britain’s Prince Harry (L) and his fiancee US actress Meghan Markle (R) walk with each as they leave after attending a service of commemoration and thanksgiving to mark Anzac Day in Westminster Abbey in London on April 25, 2018. – Anzac Day marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War. The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) landed at Gallipoli in Turkey during World War I. (Photo by Adrian DENNIS / AFP) (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Turnbull and Philippe had on Tuesday opened a high-tech new museum at the Australian memorial designed to bring to life the country’s role on the Western Front.

The 63-million-euro ($76-million) Sir John Monash Centre, named after one of the country’s greatest generals, uses life-size videos of soldiers and a 360-degree cinema to showcase the role of Australian troops.

It showcases Australian soldiers’ diaries, photographs and letters, while visitors can also visit a stretch of rebuilt wartime trench to better understand life at the Front.

The memorial site where it is located is also home to a cemetery where 2,000 Commonwealth troops are buried.

The names of some 11,000 Australian troops, whose bodies were never found, are engraved on its walls.

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