The Australian Army Band and Australia's Federation Guard march off after the Last Post Ceremony at Menin Gate, Belgium.
The Australian Army Band and Australia's Federation Guard march off after the Last Post Ceremony at Menin Gate, Belgium. CPL Kyle Genner

100 years on, we remember them

THE Australian Defence Force honoured the service and sacrifice of those who fought in Belgium during the First World War, during the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Polygon Wood in Belgium yesterday.

The clash took place on September 26, 1917 and was the first major battle fought by the Fifth Australian Division in Belgium. It was part of the Third Battle of Ypres - the major British offensive in Flanders in 1917.

"While it only lasted a matter of hours, the Battle for Polygon Wood was declared a great success for the Australian Imperial Force at the time,” Vice Admiral Ray Griggs said.

The ADF contingent was joined by Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove, the Governor of New South Wales, David Hurley, the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Dan Tehan, and Princess Astrid of Belgium, Archduchess of Austria-Este, representing the Belgian Royal Family.

Vice Admiral Ray Griggs said recognition of this significant battle was important for all Australians.

"The first Australian Imperial Force helped to shape the course of history in WWI, and their story deserves to be well known both in Australia and globally,” Vice Admiral Griggs said.

"But of course 'success' on the Western Front is a highly relative term, and this victory came at significant cost to Australia with 5770 casualties in this battle alone.”

He said in eight weeks of fighting at Flanders, Australian forces had 38,000 casualties.

"Australia experienced some of its greatest military sacrifices and most substantial losses on the Western Front,” Vice Admiral Griggs said.

"The Australians who served there continue to hold a place in Australia's national identity, and certainly in that of the contemporary ADF, even 100 years on.”

Vice Admiral Griggs said the ADF's contribution to the 100th anniversary commemorative service in Zonnebeke was part of a broader commitment to honour all who came before them during the Centenary of Anzac.

"The centenary commemorations of these significant battles are an important acknowledgement of the enormous loss of life, and also the fierce courage under fire that the Anzacs became renowned for,” he said.

"One hundred years on, the ADF reflects upon, and honours their service and sacrifice.”

The Western Front was a crucial theatre of the First World War. Between 1916 and 1918, 295,000 Australians served on the Western Front, where approximately 46,000 Australian lives were lost and more than 134,000 Australians were wounded or captured. During the course of the First World War, almost 60,000 Australian service personnel were killed.

Those attending the Dawn Service yesterday had the unique opportunity to walk through the one-kilometre Reflective Trail, an interactive exhibition taking visitors through the Polygon Wood forest to the Buttes New British Cemetery.

The immersive experience will feature a soundscape, local re-enactors and a short film, with music played by the Australian Army Band plus members of Australia's Federation Guard delivering two of the four short stories narrated at significant stops along the trail.