On a clear winter’s afternoon on a hillside in rural Belgium, two caskets containing the remains of Australian soldiers are carried into Tyne Cot War Cemetery on the shoulders of current servicemen and women, accompanied by the sound of bagpipes.
Beside them is a third casket, carrying a British soldier who was found alongside them.
More than 100 years after they died on the muddy battlefields of Passchendaele, today they are finally being given a full military funeral service.
Dignitaries and civilians from Australia, Britain, Belgium and France have come to pay their respects and witness the moving ceremony.
“It’s a sign of the respect we have for them that they’re given this proper funeral service one hundred years on,” Darren Chester, Australian Defence Minister told 9News.
“The level of service and sacrifice on the Western Front was in many ways the shaping of our nation,” Mr Chester said.
All three soldiers are unidentified, and were discovered during construction work along the Broodseinde Ridge in May 2016, only 400 metres from Tyne Cot cemetery.
Investigations Manager with the Australian Army’s Unrecovered War Casualties unit Alan Cooper told 9News the men appeared to have been hastily buried, side by side in a shell hole.
“The Australians were wrapped in their warm uniform coats, they had their Australian titles and their Rising Sun service badges in their collars still intact,” he said.
Given the location, it’s likely they were killed during the Battle for Broodseinde Ridge on October 4th 1917.
It was one of a series of bloody battles throughout 1917 that became known as Passchendaele, or the Third Battle of Ypres.
It’s hoped that by comparing their DNA with family members of missing soldiers back in Australia, researchers may one day be able to identify these men, and put names on their gravestones.
“It’s our job to find them, identify them, and hopefully return them to their families,” Mr Cooper said.
Until then, their graves simply read “An Australian Solider, known unto God.”
As the Last Post and then the Australian National Anthem rang out over Tyne Cot, the men were lowered back into the ground, this time with all the respect, honour and thanks they so deserve.
They join 12,000 Australian soldiers buried at Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Cemetery. More than 8,000 of those are unidentified, and tens of thousands more are still missing.
Today’s service is among several significant events taking place across Belgium and France this week, as part of commemorations to mark the Centenary of the Armistice this Sunday November 11, the day the gunfire finally fell silent in 1918.