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Battle of Pozières Remembered

21 July 2016

It was here that Australian forces fought their first major engagement in the Somme offensive and 100 years on, a commemorative service will be conducted at the site of the 1st Australian Division Memorial at Pozières to mark their sacrifice.

Before that ceremony the remains of three unknown Australian soldiers will be buried with full military honours at the nearby CWGC Pozieres British Cemetery - where more than 700 Australians lie buried.

The Battle of Pozières began on 23 July 1916. It was an attempt to capture the village and the strategically important high ground at the heart of the Somme battlefield.

At 12.30am on 23 July infantry of the 1st Australian Division dashed towards the village, screened by an intense artillery bombardment. Assisted by the British 1st Division on the right and the 48th Division on the left, the Australians quickly secured their first objectives and held them against determined German counter-attacks, often under heavy shelling.

Over the next weeks, repeated efforts were made to move beyond the village and to seize German positions on the crest. After a series of costly engagements, the ridge was in Australian hands by 5 August.

The offensive continued - often with brutal hand-to-hand fighting - towards Mouquet Farm until September when the exhausted Australian divisions were removed from the line for a period of rest.

In late October and November, they returned to the Somme and fought in autumn rain and mud between Le Sars and Gueudecourt. Australian troops then spent the winter of 1916-17 in the trenches on the Somme. Over 80,000 men of the Australian forces fought on the Somme. Some 23,000 became casualties, including more than 8,500 dead who today are commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Some can be found close to where they fought and died, while others are buried away from the front lines near sites used by medical units, such as at Puchevillers British Cemetery.

Over 700 Australian servicemen are buried in Pozieres British Cemetery, while over 500 were laid to rest in Courcelette British Cemetery.

Warlencourt British Cemetery is the final resting place for over 470 Australian servicemen, the majority of whom died between November 1916 and March 1917.

In 1918 Australian units fought an important action at Villers-Bretonneux during the German spring offensives. This became the location of a memorial honouring the Australian Imperial Force. Upon it are inscribed the names of over 10,000 servicemen who died in France and have no known grave.

> READ: Inside the little French factory engraving headstones for Commonwealth soldiers killed in world wars []