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Newcastle piper laments lost soldiers

As the sun rises over the graves of more than 2000 World War I servicemen at the Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery in France this Anzac Day, the sound of a Newcastle soldier's  bagpipes will drift mournfully across the twilight.

Australian Army Musician Shaun Manning admits he'll be quite emotional during the Dawn Service, particularly when the time comes for him to pipe the haunting sounds of The Lament from high on the tower of the Australian National Memorial.

"I have learned so much about the hardships and sacrifice endured by Australian World War I servicemen since arriving here in France," Musician Manning said.

"From the top of the tower, I'll be looking out over the Western Front and thinking about those young guys who lived through such terrible times in the trenches.

"The place is so peaceful and beautiful now, it's hard to imagine what it would have been like during the war.

"I feel emotional just thinking about it."

Musician Manning, who is attached to Newcastle's Bullecourt Barracks, has travelled to France to participate in Anzac Day commemorative activities as part of the Australian Army Band.

The Novocastrian is a chemical engineer by trade and works at the University of Newcastle. He has been in the Army Reserve for 31 years.

"I feel very honoured to have been selected to come here and do this," he said.

"To me, Anzac Day is a way of keeping alive the memories of service and sacrifice.

"Now that I have seen the Somme, I feel very strongly about having the opportunity to be here and pay my respects to these guys, who answered the call, volunteered, and gave up their lives for the cause of freedom."

Travelling through various French towns on the Western Front to attend Anzac Day rehearsals has left Musician Manning feeling proud of Australia's legacy in the region.

"I have been surprised to see all the Australian flags flying throughout the towns and how much regard the people in this part of France still have for our diggers and what they did during World War I," he Manning said.

"Apart from the sacrifices made to preserve freedom for the French people, the Australians obviously behaved in a way that endeared them to the local people, forging a relationship that has endured 100 years."

The father of three – whose children are Cameron, 25, Bianca, 23, and Duncan, 21 – said his visit to France had made him feel even more in awe of the soldiers of the Great War.

"Walking through the Commonwealth cemeteries in this area has opened my eyes to the fact that the average age of the people who came here, and died here, is the same as my own children," Musician Manning said.

"I feel lucky and thankful that they never had to endure those same hardships, nor make the ultimate sacrifice like these young men did."

More than 7000 people are expected to attend the Anzac Day Dawn Service at Villers-Bretonneux, which marks Anzac Day and the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Villers-Bretonneux.

The battle, in which the Australian 13th and 15th Brigades successfully recaptured the strategically important town, is regarded as a key turning point of the war.

This year marks the final Anzac Day in the Australian Government's four-year long Centenary of Anzac program.