Governor-General Quentin Bryce has paid tribute to the thousands of Australian soldiers who died fighting on the Western Front in World War I.

Bryce today laid a wreath at the Australian National Memorial on the outskirts of the rural French town of Villers-Bretonneux, where more than 1500 diggers fought to liberate it from the Germans on Anzac Day 1918.

After a guided tour of the towering memorial, which sits on a hill overlooking the former battlefields, Bryce laid a wreath of green and gold flowers at its steps.

She also spent time walking through the military cemetery adjoining the memorial where 2141 Commonwealth servicemen are buried or commemorated and looked visibly moved while pausing at some of those belonging to young Australian diggers.

Bryce later visited the town’s local primary school, which was named after the state of Victoria where money was raised after the war so it could be built following the destruction of the original building during WWI.

The Villers-Bretonneux memorial was the site of the first dawn service ever held to mark Anzac Day on the Western Front in April this year, attracting about 5000 people.

The names and home towns of 10,771 Australian soldiers who went missing in action on the Western Front in France and who have no known grave are listed on the towering monument’s walls.

While the battle of Villers-Bretonneux is not as famous as the Gallipoli campaign, it marked a key turning point in WWI because the Australians were able to stop the German forces advancing towards Paris.

But their success came at a heavy cost, with more than 1,500 killed or wounded in the battle which began on the night of April 24 and ended on Anzac Day.

Bryce is on her first official foreign tour as governor-general.

Following her visit to Villers-Bretonneux, Bryce is due to rededicate a memorial to the diggers who fought at the nearby town of Le Hamel in July 1918 in a highly-successful battle which lasted just 93 minutes.

About 46,000 Australian soldiers died on the Western Front in France and Belgium during WWI.