“At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.” ANZAC Day is a sombre occasion marked by commemorative services across the globe. And almost one hundred years after scores of young Australian and New Zealand soldiers were cut down on the beaches of Gallipoli, increasingly large numbers of their compatriots are travelling to remember them where they fell.
The sun-kissed shores of Gallipoli are hauntingly quiet most times of year, but that’s especially the case when the annual dawn service takes place on April 25. There are more locations than just Gallipoli to commemorate those who served in the First World War, however, with solemn services taking place in France and Belgium, as well at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
Just over 5,000 attendees turned out for the dawn service at ANZAC Cove last year, with a similar number expected to make the arduous journey down the clifftops to the beach and back to Lone Pine Cemetery for this year’s commemorations. More than double that number are expected to turn out in 2015, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the ANZAC landing at Gallipoli.
Graciously overseen by the Turkish government, commemorative services take place throughout the day on April 24, culminating for Australian and New Zealand travellers in the dawn service the following morning. Separate services at Lone Pine and Chunuk Bair end the proceedings, with most foreign visitors to Turkey travelling as part of a tour group to help negotiate administrative procedures and ensure access to the sites.
Tours of the Western Front in France and Belgium are popular year round, so the dawn service at the Australian National Memorial in Villers-Bretonneux, near the battlefields of the Somme in northern France, is naturally well attended. Almost 11,000 Australian soldiers have no known grave in France, however their sacrifices are commemorated on the inscribed walls of the Memorial.
A similar memorial pays tribute at VC Corner in Fromelles, in a quiet part of northern France where the First Australian Imperial Force suffered an unprecedented 5,500 casualties during the catastrophic Battle of Fromelles. Nearby Bullecourt hosts its own wreath-laying service to commemorate the thousands of Australian soldiers who gave up their lives in defence of the region.
Just as Australians are warmly welcomed in France, so too are visitors from Down Under well received in Belgium, where the exploits of Australian soldiers at the Battle of Passchendaele are still remembered. The small town of Zonnebeke was razed to the ground during fierce and often forlorn fighting for the Ypres Salient, but today the rebuilt township holds multiple war services.
One of the most moving tributes takes place in Ypres itself, with the joint Australian and New Zealand Procession and Menin Gate Service commemorating those who fell and were never found during the brutal battle for Ypres. To this day, buglers from the local fire brigade sound 'The Last Post' each night to commemorate the Commonwealth soldiers who never came home from Belgium.
It may be increasingly popular to commemorate ANZAC Day at services overseas, but the Australian War Memorial in Canberra also caters to thousands of citizens wishing to attend a dawn service on home soil. Just as they do at its New Zealand counterpart, the National War Memorial in Wellington, it’s common for thousands of onlookers to rise early and pay their respects at dawn.
Although guided tours to the First World War battlefields of Turkey, France and Belgium take place throughout the year, tours coinciding with ANZAC Day services are particularly popular – especially around the beaches overlooking ANZAC Cove. Many such tours fill up several months in advance, so it’s highly recommended to plan ahead if you wish to take part in the services in years to come.