This Dawn Service has its origins in a military routine which is still followed by the Australian Army. 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 we come to share this moment with returned service men and women and I have been pondering why? What gets us out of bed before sunup to come and stand here and remember something that happened on a far shore in different century?
It’s so long ago and so far away and for many of us it is just a story, albeit a gripping and tragic one.Yet we come, young and old, of all nationalities and faiths, to stand at this place and pay our respects for those who paid the ultimate price in a war which extracted an unmeasurable cost from the countries involved.
Why do we come?
Do we come to remember the horror that is war? Perhaps.
Do we come to worship heroes? They did many extraordinary acts but they would deny they were heroes and reject being worshipped as such. They were simply men and women doing what had to be done.
Do we come out of a sense of national pride? Perhaps, but it is best we treat this emotion with great care as it can soon transform into nationalism, and in war, we have had enough of that.
Why do we come? Why do we stand to? I suspect it is out of gratitude – we are grateful for the sacrifice made by all service men and women in what ever war or conflict they served in, because by doing so they saved us from having to, they protected our lifestyle, they provided us with the freedom to be who we are today.
When we look around us and see what we have, what we have the freedom to be and do, what opportunities are there for us we are grateful for those who made it possible, for those who gave us our identity, ensured our culture and traditions and left us a legacy others are envious of.
What do they ask in return?
That we stand to and practice gratitude in all of our relationships, contacts and dealings with others, those we share this country with regardless of where they came from or why they came here.
That we stand to and do all that we do at home, at school, at work everyday with an attitude that is grateful for the opportunity to do so;
That we stand to and offer the opportunity for others to share in our gratitude by opening our country and hearts to those whose countries are unable to do so;
That we stand to and use every tool at our disposal to avoid war at all costs.
Why do we come? We come to say thanks digger, thanks for having the courage to face the horror in your present moment and make room for our future. Thanks.
Lest we forget.