Australia honours WWI soldiers killed in France

22nd April 2005, Comments 0 comments

OUTTERSTEENE, France, April 22 (AFP) - Australia paid homage Friday to four infantrymen from World War One whose bodies were discovered in a field in northern France.

OUTTERSTEENE, France, April 22 (AFP) - Australia paid homage Friday to four infantrymen from World War One whose bodies were discovered in a field in northern France.

The bodies of the four were buried at Outtersteene military cemetery five kilometres (three miles) from the Belgian border in a ceremony attended by Australian Army Chief Lieutenant General Peter Leahy and Ambassador Penny Wensley.

"I am proud ... But my pride is tempered by the sadness of losing so many lives. There is a special melancholy thinking about the death of the young. But here in France they found a new home where they are welcomed as heroes, " Leahy said.

Among the small congregation was John Payne, 62, whose great-uncle Corporal Ernie Corby was one of the four dead. "I feel incredibly honoured.

The ceremony was magnificent," he said.

A bush-hat, trademark of the Australian military, and a wreath lay on the coffins - each wrapped in an Australian flag - as an Anglican priest read the blessing.

The bodies - two of which remain unidentified - were found by a local farmer who turned up pottery with English writing while ploughing a field in 2003 and called in amateur archaeologist Philippe Duquennoy.

"Digging around the area I came across the remains of four soldiers with badges and insignia. It was a great surprise. I wasn’t expecting anything of the kind, because it is becoming very rare to find bodies now," Duquennoy said.

The other identified body was that of Lieutenant Christopher Henry Duncan Champion, whose surviving relatives could not be traced, according to the Australian defence department.

The cemetery lies by the village of Merris, which was totally obliterated in World War One. The TGV fast train line to the English channel now runs directly beside the spot.

The soldiers are presumed to have been killed in April 1914 during the German army's last and briefly successful offensive.

Some 53,000 Australians were killed in World War One. All volunteers, they were considered to have been among the best troops fighting the central powers.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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