Aus, NZ mark 100 years since troops left

2014-11-01 12:08
The ceramic poppies display at the Tower of London marking the centenary of the outbreak of World War 1.(file, AFP)

The ceramic poppies display at the Tower of London marking the centenary of the outbreak of World War 1.(file, AFP)

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Sydney - Australia and New Zealand on Saturday marked 100 years since their first convoy of troops left for the battlefields of World War I, with thousands attending events to commemorate the "heavy day in history".

The convoy left the Western Australian town of Albany on 1 November 1914, carrying 20 000 Australian and 8 500 New Zealand soldiers bound for Gallipoli in modern day Turkey and later the battlefields of Europe.

"It was a heavy day in our history and it led to even heavier times to come," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said in remarks welcoming New Zealand leader John Key to the country.

"All were sailing into history," Abbott told a commemorative service overlooking the ocean, referring to the convoy.

"The first World War was the crucible in which the Australian identity was forged. In 1914 we were a country with a flag and a parliament but little sense of nationhood.

"The baptism of fire that was the Great War changed all that. The scale of sacrifice and loss was beyond anything imaginable."

Critical role

Losses in Gallipoli were hard, with the offensive claiming the lives of more than 11 000 New Zealand and Australian troops in a matter of months, although worse battles were to follow in the Great War, Key said.

"In a war that engulfed the world, our young nations were among the hardest hit. No community, rural or urban, was left untouched by loss," Key said.

"But the service, and sacrifice, of those who fought for us - would play a critical role in forging our national identities.

"Our experiences in the First World War marked an important point in our coming of age as countries. They made us look at who we were, and we came from colonies to became nations," Key said.

Before the service thousands had lined the streets of Albany for a commemorative troop march, while a symbolic departure of a flotilla of naval warships from King George Sound was to follow later on Saturday.

Albany in the far south of Western Australia was the gathering point for ships carrying the Australian Imperial Force and New Zealand Expeditionary Force which were later to become known as the 'Anzacs'.

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