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Aust sacrifice in WWI battle recalled

AAP logoAAP 23/07/2016 Lloyd Jones, AAP Europe Correspondent

The horrors of war for diggers fighting on the Western Front 100 years ago have been brought home to Australians attending a centenary service to mark the Battle of Pozieres in northern France.

More than 1500 people, mostly Australians, attended Saturday's service in Pozieres village where Australian units attacked and took German positions on July 23, 1916, but paid heavily in blood over the coming weeks as intense German shelling and counter-attacks took their toll.

Australian casualties at Pozieres and nearby Mouquet Farm totalled some 23,000, including more than 6700 men who died.

During Saturday's service at the 1st Australian Division Memorial, Veterans' Affairs Minister Dan Tehan said more Australians were lost in eight weeks of fighting in the Pozieres battle than during the eight months of the Gallipoli campaign.

He said the German bombardments suffered by the Australians were "some of the most severe of the entire First World War".

The minister quoted one soldier who wrote home saying, "the Gallipoli veterans here say the peninsula was a 'happy picnic' to this push ... courage does not count here, it is all nerve."

"The poor, wounded devils you meet on the stretchers are laughing with glee, one cannot blame them, they are getting out of this."

Australia's ambassador to France Stephen Brady said the battle reduced farmland to a moonscape of craters while homes were reduced to rubble.

He quoted Captain Aubrey Wiltshire who noted in his diary that "stinking corpses lie everywhere, there's a man with his face blown off ... here, a good Australian lad with his leg lying beside him."

Chief of Army, Lieutenant-General Angus Campbell, said five Australians received the Victoria Cross for their actions at Pozieres, including for bravery in combat and for saving wounded comrades from no-mans' land.

"But on a battlefield of such scale many similar deeds have sadly gone unrecognised."

General Campbell said Australians reflected on men who were VC winners "not because they received decorations but because they stand for all of those who risked or gave their lives, unsung by all but the mates with whom they shared the perils of their ordeals."

Earlier on Saturday three unknown Australian soldiers whose remains were found in farmland around Pozieres in recent years were buried with full military honours in a funeral service attended by a large Australian military contingent.

Security was tight at Saturday's services with dozens of gendarmes guarding the site and airport-style security in place for those entering.

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