Thousands huddled in the pre-dawn darkness at Wollongong Cenotaph on Thursday to pay tribute to the soldiers who fought at Gallipoli and all the men and women who have served Australia since.
Wrapped tightly in jackets and scarves, an estimated 2000 people emerged from the dark streets surrounding MacCabe Park to gather under the still-bright full moon as the service began.
Just before 5am, as the Diggers marched, a brisk wind whipped up to carry the sounds of marching feet and a beating drum through the crowd.
Among the youngest onlookers was four-year-old Axl Hornby, attending the first of what his mother Samantha said would be a lifetime of early April 25 mornings.
‘‘Are they soldiers, mum?’’ he whispered, clutching his teddy bear, watching the march in awe.
The son of former Dragons captain Ben Hornby, Axl was there to remember his great-grandfather who served in New Guinea in World War II and carry on his family’s strong Anzac Day traditions.
Nearby, holding a wreath to lay at the foot of the cenotaph, two young scouts – Jameson Lyons, 11, and Jayden Beeche, 15 – both swelled with pride as the first strains of bagpipes filled the air.
‘‘I’m just really proud because my great-grand uncle fought in Gallipoli when he was 14 and then in World War II and earned medals which I have here today,’’ Jayden said.
‘‘For me, today means Australia is a happy place, we can go to bed feeling safe about our country because many years ago people fought for it,’’ Jameson agreed.
Delivering the dawn service address, Royal Australian Navy Commodore Brett Brace said he was heartened to see an increasing number of people, especially younger generations, at Anzac Day services.
‘‘We meet here at this early hour on this day every year in honour of the heroism and resilience of the young men who landed at Anzac Cove,’’ he said.
‘‘We remember those who paid the supreme sacrifice so that we and the people of other nations can live in peace [and] we remember those who continue to suffer through their physical or mental scars.
‘‘Today is also a day of thanks and quiet reflection on what a wonderful, lucky nation we live in. It is a time to reflect on Australia’s commitment to continue to contribute to peace in other parts of the world.
‘‘Where necessary to preserve the peace in our region or elsewhere in the world, we must be prepared to deploy our forces to fight or protect the rights of our neighbours and our nation.’’
Once official proceedings were over, the crowd dispersed and it was time for mates to catch up and perhaps head to the City Diggers RSL Club to share a quiet drink.
Among the last standing beneath the monument was former serviceman Brett Pearson – who, with a chest showing medals earned in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Solomon Islands over a decade, served as a reminder of the ongoing relevance of Anzac Day.
Now retired from the Air Force and working in a Queensland mine, the 31-year-old Dapto man said he returned to Wollongong each year to pay his respects.