The solemn silence of pre-dawn services gave way to booming marching bands and the clink of beer glasses today as Australians and New Zealanders marked their annual tribute to military veterans.
Millions turned out for events in both countries to mark the 94th annual Anzac Day, a celebration named after the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps who served in the nations’ famous defeat at the battle of Gallipoli.
More than 11,000 Australian and New Zealand troops died at Gallipoli, a futile effort by British Commonwealth forces to invade Turkey during World War I.
The day honours all past and present military personnel – particularly the World War I and World War II forces Australians call “Diggers” – with ticker-tape parades and services in both countries.
In Sydney, people stood shoulder-to-shoulder in darkness with heads bowed to observe a minute of silence at the Cenotaph war memorial. Many laid wreaths on the memorial after a lone bugler played The Last Post.
“As the dawn is even now about to pierce the night, so let their memory inspire us to work for the coming new light into the dark places of the world,” New South Wales state Governor Marie Bashir said at the Sydney service.
In the Australian capital of Canberra, about 20,000 people – including Prime Minister Kevin Rudd – braved chilly winds to attend a pre-dawn service at the Australian War Memorial, where navy chaplain Collin Acton recalled the sacrifices at Gallipoli and the thousands killed in subsequent conflicts.
Australians and New Zealanders lined the streets of major cities in both countries for parades following the early services.
The thumping of drums and the whine of bagpipes echoed throughout downtown Sydney as veterans and their descendants marched alongside active military personnel before thousands of cheering, flag-waving spectators.
Veteran Pat Lee, who served with the Royal Australian Air Force from 1939 to 1946, leaned on his cane and swept his eyes over the veterans waiting to march alongside him. He has attended nearly every Anzac celebration since 1946, always donning the tin helmet he wore in the war.
“It’s getting a bit heavy,” the 87-year-old said with a rueful smile, gently touching his helmet, which is adorned with the words: Lest we forget.
“In a couple years, I’ll be 90 and a lot of the mates I served with have either died or can’t do it anymore. I’m representing those that can no longer be in the Anzac march.”
As is tradition, servicemen and veterans flooded pubs following the parades to knock back a few beers and play games of “two-up” – a two-coin heads vs tails competition that was popular among Diggers.
Restrictions on gambling are loosened on Anzac Day to allow for the game.
Australians and New Zealanders were expected to gather for a dawn service at Gallipoli later Saturday.