Australians gather in France for ANZAC Day

Thousands of Australians gathered in northern France on Wednesday to mark the ANZAC Day commemoration of their far-off country's World War I dead.

The “Last Post” was played as a wreath was laid in a dawn ceremony in the village of Villers-Bretonneux, which was recaptured from German forces in a night raid by Australian troops on April 25, 1918.

The ceremony was presided over by Australia’s ambassador to France, Ric Wells, and was attended by Australian Veterans’ Affairs Minister Warren Snowdon and France’s junior defence minister Marc Laffineur.

Those at the Villers-Bretonneux ceremony symbolically joined hundreds of thousands of Australians and New Zealanders honouring their war dead at services across the two nations and at battlefields around the globe.

Anzac Day commemorates the start of the gruelling 1915 World War I battle of Gallipoli in Turkey, in which thousands of Australian and New Zealand Army Corps soldiers died.

Roughly 24,000 Australians were wounded or killed in the battle to free Villers-Bretonneux, in France’s Picardy region.

The village acknowledges its debt to Australia with the words “N’oublions jamais l’Australie” (Let us never forget Australia) written in the classrooms of the local school, rebuilt with Australian donations in 1920.

Some 46,000 Australian servicemen died in the battlefields of northern France during the struggle for control of the Western front, out of the more than 313,000 soldiers sent from Australia to fight in World War I.

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French forces tortured and murdered Algerian freedom fighter in 1950s, admits Macron

French forces "tortured and murdered" Algerian freedom fighter Ali Boumendjel during his country's war for independence, President Emmanuel Macron admitted on Tuesday, officially reappraising a death that was covered up as a suicide.

French forces tortured and murdered Algerian freedom fighter in 1950s, admits Macron
Malika, the widow of Ali Boumendjel, pictured in 2001. Photo: Stefan Fferberg/AFP

Macron made the admission “in the name of France” during a meeting with Boumendjel’s grandchildren.

The move comes after Macron in January refused to issue an official apology for abuses committed during the occupation of Algeria – instead, he agreed to form a “truth commission” as recommended by a report commissioned by the government to shed light on France’s colonial past.

Atrocities committed by both sides during the 1954-1962 Algerian war of independence continue to strain relations between the countries.

Boumendjel, a nationalist and lawyer, was arrested during the battle of Algiers by the French army, “placed incommunicado, tortured, and then killed on 23 March 1957,” the Elysee Palace said in a statement.

“Ali Boumendjel did not commit suicide. He was tortured and then killed,” Macron told Boumendjel’s grandchildren, according to the statement.

It is not the first time the real cause of death was acknowledged.

In 2000, the former head of French intelligence in Algiers Paul Aussaresses confessed to ordering Boumendjel’s death and disguising the murder as a suicide, according to the statement.

It added that Macron on Tuesday had also reiterated his desire to give families the opportunity to find out the truth about this chapter of history.

Last month, Boumendjel’s niece Fadela Boumendjel-Chitour denounced what she called the “devastating” lie the French state had told about her uncle.

French historian Benjamin Stora, who wrote the government-commissioned report, has said there is a “never-ending memory war” between the two countries.

The report has been described by the Algerian government as “not objective” and falling “below expectations.”

During his 2017 election campaign, Macron – the first president born after the colonial period – declared that the occupation of Algeria was a “crime against humanity”.

He has since said there was “no question of showing repentance” or of “presenting an apology” for abuses committed in the North African country.