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Anzac Day France 2018 honours Australian sacrifice

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A portrait of French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.

In a poignant speech during the Anzac Day dawn service at the Australian National Memorial near Villers-Bretonneux, French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe highlighted the enduring relationship between Australia and France that was forged on the battlefields more than a century ago.

The ceremony in northern France, also attended by the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and HRH Prince Charles, marked one of the defining moments of the First World War – the Second Battle of Villers-Bretonneux.

Reminding the audience present, and the over one million viewers in Australia, of the respect, deep appreciation and friendship between the two countries, Mr Philippe observed that 313,000 Australians fought in France and Belgium during the First World War.

‘One in two was wounded in battle,’ he said.

‘One in six never made it home.

‘And it is on the beach at Gallipoli, on the fields of the Somme, where we fought side by side, that between these nations our brotherhood of spilled blood was forged.’

While the service was focused on the achievement of retaking the town of Villers-Bretonneux and halting the German Offensive, Mr Philippe also reflected on the origins of Anzac Day and how it had shaped the world’s view of Australia.

‘I do not know if, on 25 April 1915, the thousands of young Australians realised as they set foot on the peninsula of Gallipoli, that their nation too, Australia, was stepping into history with them,’ he said.

It was a reminder that Anzac Day, though the product of one of the greatest defeats in modern military history, is also a large part of what has defined the Australian identity for more than a century.

As the Anzac Centenary period 2014–18 draws to a close, it is important to appreciate its legacy, because as Mr Philippe said, ‘To remember is to acknowledge the courage of these hundreds of thousands of Australian volunteers for whom distance could not justify indifference to the world’s fate’.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton represented Australia at the service at Gallipoli in Turkey.

To see video coverage of these services in full, visit ABC iView and search for Anzac Day, or see DVA’s YouTube channel.

To read Mr Philippe’s speech in full, visit the Resources page of the Sir John Monash Centre website.

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