The Service has its origins in a military routine which is still followed by the Australian Army today. During battle, the half-light of dawn was one of the most favoured times for an attack. Soldiers in defensive positions were woken in the dark before dawn, so by the time first light crept across the battlefield they were awake, alert, and manning their weapons; this is still known as the “stand-to”. As dusk is equally favourable for attacks, the stand-to was repeated at sunset.
After the First World War, returned soldiers sought the comradeship they had felt in those quiet, peaceful moments before dawn. A dawn vigil, recalling the wartime front line practice of the dawn ‘stand-to’, became the basis of a form of commemoration in several places after the war.
Today dawn services include the presence of a chaplain, but not the presence of dignitaries such as the governor general. They were originally very simple and followed the military routine. In many cases, attendance at the dawn service was restricted to veterans, while the daytime ceremony was for families and other well-wishers. Before dawn, the gathered veterans would be ordered to “stand to” and two minutes’ silence would follow. At the end of this time a lone bugler would play the Last Post and then conclude the service with Reveille, the bugler’s call to wake up.
In more recent times families and young people have been encouraged to take part in dawn services, and services in Australian capital cities have seen some of the largest turnouts ever. Reflecting this change, those services have become more elaborate, incorporating hymns, readings, pipers, and rifle volleys. Other services, though, have retained the simple format of the dawn stand-to, familiar to so many soldiers.
In Papua New Guinea Anzac Dawn Services are held at the three Australian war cemeteries at Bomana in Port Moresby, Bita Paka War Cemetery in Rabaul and the Lae War Cemetery,
Bomana is the largest Australian war cemetery in the Pacific with 3823 graves. The cemetery lies in a serene tropical garden 19 kilometres north of Port Moresby off Pilgrims’ Way. The cemetery was begun by the army in 1942 and formally dedicated by the Governor-General of Australia, Field Marshall Sir William Slim, on 19 October 1953. Those who died fighting in Papua and Bougainville are buried here.
The Cross of Sacrifice, Memorial to the Missing and the Stone of Remembrance are built of a particularly beautiful golden-coloured sandstone. The graves are marked with polished marble headstones and dressed in uniform rows on sloping lawns between the Stone of Remembrance and the Cross of Sacrifice.
On a rise at the rear of the cemetery is the Port Moresby Memorial to the Missing which consists of a rotunda of cylindrical pillars enclosing a circle of square pillars with bronze panels engraved with the names of 703 Australians as well as Papua and New Guinea local forces listed as missing-in-action. The names of the battlefields on which the men died are carved on the entablature above the pillars. In the centre is a topograph with a bronze compass showing the direction and distance of the battlefields.
The Dawn Service at Bomana is conducted by the Port Moresby Branch of the Returned Services League. Increasing numbers of trekkers are attending the service each year and the memory of the occasion will remain with them for many years. The solemn quietness of the pre-dawn is a time for quiet reflection on their Kokoda trekking experience. The first glint of light on the endless rows of polished marble headstones is a humbling reminder of the price of freedom and the sacrifice involved to secure it. The service includes the haunting sound of the lone piper; a bugler sounding Reveille and the Last Post; an Honour Guard from the PNG Army; a Cenotaph Guard from the Australian Defence Force; and a decreasing number of veterans.
Bomana War Cemetery is the only place to be for the traditional Anzac Day Dawn Service each year.
Checkout our Anzac Dawn Service photos at Bomana War Cemetery at: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151122323134761.455139.21901519760&type=1