Aussie diggers laid to rest at last
THEY could have been loving sons, doting fathers or loyal brothers whose families never got to say goodbye.
But finally, after 101 years, two unidentified Australian WWI soldiers have been laid to rest next to their comrades.
In what was a moving, hour-long military funeral, defence personnel, politicians and members of the pubic gathered in the Tyne Cot Cemetery, just north of Ypres in Belgium, to bury the brave soldiers on Tuesday afternoon, local time.
Grey skies eventually parted, allowing the sun to shine down on the solemn event as hundreds paid their respects in what is the largest Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery in the world.
The two men from the 1st Australian Imperial Force were found in May 2016 during development work near Ypres in Belgium.
A third British soldier of the Lancashire Fusiliers was also found, with the three discovered in what's believed to have been a former shell-hole.
Shell-holes were commonly used for burials during the war, however the areas can make recovery challenging.
The men presumedly died during the Battle of Passchendaele, which stretched between July 31 and November 10, 1917.
At the time, it was known as the Third Battle of Ypres.
The funeral, which was held between the Australian Defence Department and the United Kingdom's Ministry of Defence, was attended by a raft of dignitaries including government and defence representatives.
The Australian Army's Unrecovered War Casualties Team and the UK's Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre attempted to identify the soldiers through archaeological, historical artefacts as well as forensic dental, anthropology and DNA means.
However despite extensive investigations, their identities could not be determined.
Speaking to News Corp, Veterans' Affairs Minister Darren Chester said the service was terribly important, even years after the war.
"There are so many unknown soldiers (that went) missing in action that this perhaps might provide comfort to some of the relatives who think maybe that's 'My great-uncle or great-grandad' or whoever it might be, that they've been laid to rest now," he said.
"They should also take comfort in the fact that if remains are found they're treated with respect.
"I know that the people who are working in the field are so passionate and would love too have more information to put on these headstones."
The location where the soldiers were discovered was indicative of having been part of the Passchendaele Battle, with authorities presuming the men died towards the end of the year due to the remnants of winter clothing that were found.
A number of artefacts were also discovered including Australian Rising Sun badges.
The burial service was led by Reverend Peter Friend, director Chaplaincy, Air Command, Royal Australian Air Force and Reverend Stuart Richards CF, Chaplain, 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.
A number of prayers were read including a scripture by Mr Chester who laid a wreath at the headstone of one of the Australian soldiers before placing soil in one of the graves.
Three volleys were also fired after the coffins were lowered.
It followed a unique military event the previous evening in Ypres, where the coffins of the two Australian soldiers were carried through Menin Gate for a symbolic sounding of the Last Post.
The names of more than 6000 Australian soldiers, who have no known graves, are inscribed into the Menin Gate Memorial.
Townsville resident Peter Hoffman attended the funeral with his son Bilvit as part of their Armistice tour.
Mr Hoffman said himself, his dad, grandad and brother were all in the military.
"We're going to Villers Bretonneux for the Armistice," he said.
"It's my first visit to the western front."
Bilvit, 8, who is keeping a journal of his time in Europe, said he was enjoying learning about the history of WWI and that he felt lucky to experience the commemorations.
"It's taught me lots like how the army worked and what happened 100 years ago," he said.
Tyne Cot Cemetery is now the resting place of more than 11,900 servicemen of the British Empire from WWI.
DNA from the unidentified soldiers has been kept on record so that any potential family members can be compared.
Australian family members who are related to any soldier from WWI, WWII and Korean Wars are urged to register with the Australian Army, particularly those whose family members were never recovered from the battle of Passchendaele.
To register, family should go to https://army.govcms.gov.au/forms/uwc-a-online-registration-form