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Thousands remember Australia's fallen in France

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Thousands of Australians made a pilgrimage to the killing fields of World War I on Thursday to honour those who lost their lives on the Western Front.

Hours after similar daybreak ceremonies to mark ANZAC day in New Zealand, Australia, at Gallipoli and in Afghanistan and Thailand, Foreign Minister Bob Carr paid tribute to the role the Great War fallen had played in forging his country's national identity.

At a service attended by more than 4,000 people, mostly Australian and including many children, Carr highlighted the fact that the commander of the Australian Army Corps in France, Sir John Monash, was a first generation Australian with German-Jewish roots.

"This reminds us that we were then and we remain today, a nation of immigrants," Carr said.

"It reminds us that the more recent arrivals are part of our living history. And that all the history of modern Australia, including the story of ANZAC, belongs to them equally, wherever they were born."

Of the 60,000 Australian volunteers who died in WWI, three quarters perished in the trenches of northern France and Belgium.

"We know from abundant reports that they tended to be impatient of some of the traditional rules and regulations of the military system," Carr said.

"That they were great improvisers. That officers had to earn their respect.

"That they were instinctively egalitarian. That they placed the highest value on "doing the right thing by your mates.

"They would not have articulated it in this way -- but may we not say that they gave a very practical, down-to-earth and very Australian expression to the ideals of the French Revolution: 'liberty, equality, fraternity'."

Kader Arif, France's minister for veterans, said he had been greatly touched by the ceremony.

"What nation today would be capable of doing what Australia did in sending one tenth of its population to fight on the other side of the world for the values of democracy and freedom?" he said.

The French minister said he would be visiting Australia to prepare for next year's 100th anniversary of the start of the 1914-18 war.

The dawn ceremony was to be followed by further services in the area, including one at Bullecourt, scene of the heaviest Australian losses in the war during a battle that has become synonymous with the incompetence of the British generals directing the campaign.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130425/thousands-remember-australias-fallen-france