The Dawn Service on ANZAC Day 25 April, has become a solemn Australian and New Zealand tradition. It remains a quiet dignified service and a period to reflect on the suffering and sacrifice experienced by servicemen in all wars.
Several claims have been made regarding where and how the tradition of the Dawn Service came about. In truth there is no one event which can be said to be the birth of the Dawn Service.
World War I
The significance of the landing at Gallipoli by the ANZACs was appreciated within the Army and the nation almost immediately.
In 1916 on the first anniversary of the landings, Australian troops on the front lines and communities across Australia held services commemorating the event. In at least one case, a ‘daybreak commemoration' was held. Newspaper reports in ‘The Bulletin' of Rockhampton indicate that the community planned for a morning service starting at 6:30 am to mark the first anniversary of the landings at Gallipoli. Some 600 people were later reported as having attended the event, including some veterans of Gallipoli.
Post World War I
The nationwide connection with ANZAC Day did not change after the war ended in November 1918.
On 25 April 1919, a number of Australians travelled to Turkey to visit the site of the landings and to hold a service on the beach of ANZAC Cove. There they met the Australian Servicemen stationed at Gallipoli who were responsible for interning the many hastily buried casualties into established war graves. The reflections of these Gallipoli veterans are informative. Many remembered the time of darkness prior to the landings and the later imperative to ensure that all activity on the beach had to be completed by dawn in order to be safe from Turkish observation and artillery fire.
By the late 1920s the institution of Dawn Services had become enshrined in ANZAC Day commemorations. The first programmed Dawn Service in Sydney was held in 1928 and in Perth in 1929. Suggestions that Dawn Services began in places such as Albany in 1919 and in Sydney in 1927 as spontaneous acts of remembrance all have an element of truth to them and indicate that the concept of an early morning service developed independently in communities across Australian and New Zealand.
Today, the Dawn Service on 25 April each year is one of the few sacred traditions in Australia and is inscribed into our national consciousness.
Lest we forget.