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Published: April 29th 2015
Anzac Day … 25 April – our country’s most solemn day of remembrance each year. A day when we honour those service men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the service of our country – in all wars and conflicts – those who courageously gave up their tomorrows so that we can have the lifestyle and the freedom that we enjoy in Australia today.
I was up at 3am in the pre-dawn hours as I had to be over at daughter, Natalie’s, home to meet up with the rest of our family, minus husband, Ted and son-in-law, Justin, who both had prior commitments which prevented them from attending the Anzac Day Dawn Service this morning that daughters Jenni, Natalie and grandchildren Erin, Adam, and 4 year-old twins, Luke and Olivia, and myself would be attending.
The service was to begin at 5-45am at Riverstone a couple of suburbs away but, we had to be there a half hour earlier because grandson, Adam was singing as his school choir had been invited to perform at the ceremony so, we needed to be there in plenty of time for him to join the group and to warm up before
the ceremony began.
As huge crowds were expected, we had all decided to go in the one vehicle as parking would also be at a premium and we wanted to be able to find a spot in close proximity to where we had to go so, thought that we would leave an extra half hour earlier to make sure that we had plenty of time at our disposal.
Upon arriving at Natalie’s, I found that she and Jenni were already getting the kids organised and into the car so, then we were off, right on time.
It took us about 20 minutes to drive to Riverstone and then walk the short distance to where we had to go. It was still quite dark but luckily, the morning wasn’t too cold – a bit fresh and you needed to be wearing some warm clothing, jackets, etc but, at least it wasn’t freezing.
As we were still quite early, there were only a few other people starting to congregate in the vicinity of the Cenotaph where the ceremony was to take place so, Natalie took Adam off to find his singing teacher and to get him settled with
the rest of the choir whilst the rest of us, found what we thought would be a good vantage point, on the footpath opposite.
As we waited in the chilly morning air, more and more people began arriving and soon, the crowd had swelled to several thousand and our group had been swallowed up in the mass of people pressing further and further forward until our frontline position, which we thought would be a good vantage point where we could see the whole proceedings, suddenly wasn’t, and then we couldn’t see anything!
This was very frustrating, particularly for the younger members of our family. Guess you had to be “in the know” as to how the sequence of events were to unfold to know where the best vantage points would be. We were babes in the wood where this was concerned as this was our first visit to a Dawn Service here.
Natalie’s husband, Justin, is ex-military, having been in the Australian Navy for 14 years and having served overseas in the Persian Gulf in the War against Terrorism.
He was unable to attend the Anzac Dawn service this year as he is currently participating in
the annual Tour de Cure bike ride from Adelaide to Melbourne to raise money for cancer research. In his absence, Erin and Adam deputised for him at the ceremony, very proudly wearing dad’s service medals, including those from Afghanistan, at this very solemn occasion.
Our Anzac Day observances each year are always very important occasions but, 2015 is even more significant because it is the 100th
anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign when Australian and New Zealand forces were part of an Allied army expeditionary force that landed on the beach on the 25th
April, 1915 in an attempt to capture the Gallipoli Peninsula.
It was to become an ill-fated and bloody campaign over the next 8 months where Australian and New Zealand soldiers proved their mateship, courage and sacrifice in the face of impossible odds. It was here that the Anzac tradition began and the bond that exists between Australia and New Zealand to this day, was forged. The word “ANZAC” stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.
As the first streaks of dawn began to appear in the sky, we could hear the faint strains and the skirl of bagpipes of the Hawkesbury Nepean Valley
Pipe Band, getting louder as they preceded the procession of military personnel and several service organisations marching down the street, coming towards us, looking resplendent in their immaculate uniforms. At the head of the procession, were two flag bearers, proudly carrying the Australian and New Zealand flags.
The march terminated with the contingent coming to a halt, assembled in front of the Cenotaph and Honour Guard.
With a bit of manoeuvring, I had managed to squeeze my way through the crush of people to get near the front of the crowd so was then able to see something of the proceedings as the commemorative service unfolded.
As darkness gradually became daylight, we followed the service through the prayers and the ANZAC dedication, reflecting within our own thoughts as the pipe band played “Amazing Grace” during the laying of the wreaths on the Cenotaph.
During the ceremony, the senior choir of Erin and Adam’s school, John XXIII Catholic Primary, sang the hymns, “Abide with Me” and “Here’s to the Heroes” and at the end of the service, closed with the Australian and New Zealand national anthems.
It was a very moving ceremony and, hearing the “Ode”
and the playing of “The Last Post” always brings me undone but, it had been a very special experience just being present and being part of this very solemn and moving ceremonial occasion to honour our fallen and to also give thanks to those of our armed forces who continue to serve throughout the world.
With the ceremony concluding about 7am and having stood in the cold for the last couple of hours, the kids particularly, were cold and hungry so it seemed that the next pressing thing was to find somewhere to get them something to eat and warm to drink.
We approached the couple of service clubs nearby but, it seems that everybody else had the same idea, too and were also cold and hungry so, breakfast was the order of the day, judging by the hordes of people queued up out the door.
After the Dawn Service, we had intended to continue on to Penrith, as we wanted to go and see the Poppy Park that had been constructed over the last few weeks as an ANZAC tribute for the 100th
Anniversary of the Gallipoli landing so, we decided to go and find somewhere
in Penrith to have breakfast where, hopefully, there would be less people.
Upon our arrival, we found a cosy coffee shop that fulfilled all our requests to feed the inner man and, feeling sated after a tasty breakfast and several hot chocolates, found our way to Poppy Park, just a couple of blocks away.
The brainchild of brothers, Owen & Martin Rogers, the park was created in the shape of a single Flanders poppy and opened on 21st
March, 2015, with the invitation to the general public to participate by purchasing a commemorative artificial single red poppy to create a “field” of poppies in remembrance of our fallen servicemen and women.
The Flanders Poppy has long been the symbol of Remembrance Day that marks the Armistice of November 11, 1918 and the end of World War I but now, is increasingly being used as part of Anzac Day observances.
During World War I, the poppies were the first plants to appear after the devastation of the battlefields in Northern France and Belgium and, in soldier’s folklore, the vivid red of the poppy symbolised the blood of their comrades soaking the ground.
The ultimate aim of
creating Poppy Park was to sell over 102,000 poppies – one poppy for each and every serviceman or woman who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the service of our country.
In all the conflicts that Australia has been involved in since the Sudan in 1885 to present-day Afghanistan, 102,804 soldiers, sailors and airmen have perished, giving their lives for the freedom that we all enjoy today. Even though, as a nation, we remember and commemorate them collectively each year on Anzac Day, the feeling was that, as families fade and generations pass, finally, there will be no-one left to remember the individuals themselves and the sacrifices they made.
The vision of Remember a Soldier is that, by members of the public purchasing a poppy to be included in Poppy Park, that each and every serviceman/woman will then be personally remembered by at least one family each year as each poppy has a serviceman’s name attached to it and the conflict he/she served in.
During our visit, out of all the thousands of poppies spread out before us, we noticed one, solitary, purple poppy. We thought that perhaps, it was to symbolise The Unknown
Soldier but, when we enquired, were told no, it was for all the animals – horses, donkeys, mules etc – that had also given their lives in the service of their country.
If the field of red poppies spread out before us, signifying each and every soldier who had died, wasn’t enough to make you tear up and bring a lump to your throat, the sight if this single purple poppy amidst all the rest, certainly did.
Supported by Remember a Soldier, Penrith City Council, Penrith RSL Sub-Branch, Penrith CBD Corporation and Legacy, Poppy Park will remain open for viewing by the general public until 29th
At the conclusion of Poppy Park, all the poppies will then be collected and put into presentation boxes and sent to all the people who have purchased them who will then have their own individual soldier to honour and remember each Anzac and Remembrance Day.
All proceeds generated from Poppy Park will go to Penrith RSL Sub-Branch and Nepean Legacy so that they can continue to support our service men and women and their families who, on a daily basis, serve to protect us. The Ode
… “They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old, Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn At the going down of the sun and in the morning We will remember them ….” Lest we forget …
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