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Prime Minister John Key has paid an Anzac Day tribute to thousands of New Zealanders who lost their lives in foreign wars, saying their efforts helped preserve the living standards of today.

Speaking at the national wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Wellington, Mr Key said the original Anzacs who landed at Gallipoli in Turkey could not have foreseen how their actions would become embedded in the national consciousness.

"Perhaps it was because it was at Gallipoli that we encountered the very worst that war could throw at us, because we got through with honour and our humanity and intact," he said.

"Though our men came out battle-weary and horribly reduced in numbers, both New Zealand and Australia merged with a new sense of certainty about our place in the world, and a friendship that would survive for years."

About 2500 New Zealanders of the 8500 who served lost their lives during the nine month Gallipoli campaign.

"We salute their willingness to fight to preserve our freedoms and humanitarian ideals. We salute their willingness to meet adversity with courage and honour," he said.

"They were everyday people who rose to the heights of sacrifice and in doing so preserved the living standards of us all for generations to come. They fought for each and every one of us. They fought for New Zealand and they fought for our world."

Mr Key said Anzac Day was also special this year as it marked the 70th anniversary of the beginning of World War 2, where another 11,625 New Zealanders died.

Mr Key said it was an honour to speak in the presence of veterans from that war, and he was delighted that tens of thousands once again attended dawn services around the country.

"I am inspired to see the large numbers of young New Zealanders who are standing shoulder to shoulder with those who fought in these times of war.

"Anzac Day unites generations of Kiwis and binds us to our history as a country."

Mr Key also paid tribute to New Zealand defence force troops serving around the world today.

"On our behalf they take part in efforts to keep peace, to create secure environments for humanitarian support, and to rebuild infrastructure in areas of conflict. Today we acknowledge their service."

Speaking after Mr Key, Turkish exchange student Gizem Gemsal talked of the sacrifice many Turks made to defend their country in the Gallipoli campaign.

"We are not going to forget that peace is our greatest treasure."

Representatives of 37 different countries lay wreaths at the memorial of the unknown warrior.

- NZPA