Anzac Day 2021: Australians together again for the dawn service at War Memorial in Canberra

Crowds at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra mark the 106th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos
Crowds at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra mark the 106th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

It began in silence, save for the hum of a generator and the crunching of gravel under feet.

But unlike last year, the hush across the grounds of the Australian War Memorial was not the result of people being told to stay away on Anzac Day as COVID-19 kept the masses at home.

This was a respectful and reflective quietness as thousands stood, together again, awaiting the sound of Flight Lieutenant Tjapukai Shaw's didgeridoo to mark the start of a dawn service involving the public once again.

And as the crowd in Canberra later heard, in the words of another Indigenous serviceman, this was how it was supposed to be.

Thousands came together at the Australian War Memorial for Sunday's dawn service. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Thousands came together at the Australian War Memorial for Sunday's dawn service. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

"Sometimes you feel alone," Sergeant Ricky Morris, who served in East Timor and Afghanistan with the Australian Army, once said.

"On days like today, you want to be with your mates."

Though only a limited number could attend the service on a chilly Sunday morning, the more than 4000 who did stood with their mates and loved ones again, alongside strangers who came for the same reasons.

They brought with them many military medals, some proudly displayed over the hearts of their recipients and others carried by family members.

Tickets for the dawn service sold out. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Tickets for the dawn service sold out. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Each medal, as Sergeant Morris says, "tells a story".

This sentiment resonated with Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who referred to it in his commemorative address to mark the 106th anniversary of Australians and New Zealanders landing at Gallipoli in World War I.

He spoke of never forgetting the lessons of the past as we face challenges, implying that Australians' response to the coronavirus pandemic was proof the Anzac spirit remained alive and well.

"We couldn't gather [this time last year], but we held candles in driveways and on balconies, and we played the Last Post on radios and iPhones," Mr Morrison said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison delivers the commemorative address. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Prime Minister Scott Morrison delivers the commemorative address. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

"And together, we called on our past to light up our dawn.

"And in doing so, we rediscovered a deep truth about who we are: our strength is found in each other.

"When we are threatened; when our peace, safety and security are imperilled - in these moments, our differences fade away.

"On this Anzac dawn, we remind ourselves of the sacrifices, courage and selflessness which helped make our country what it is today."

Those who could not get a ticket to the dawn service watched from barriers at the edge of the Australian War Memorial. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Those who could not get a ticket to the dawn service watched from barriers at the edge of the Australian War Memorial. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

The Prime Minister also paid tribute to the more than 39,000 who have served more recently on operations in support of the mission in Afghanistan, during our country's longest war.

Ahead of our troops' impending withdrawal from the war-torn nation, Mr Morrison called them "the bravest of this generation", and spoke about some of the 41 Australians killed in action there.

The first of those, Sergeant Andrew Russell, left behind an 11-day-old daughter, Leisa, who is now 19 and studying criminology.

The public was able to attend the dawn service on Sunday for the first time since 2019. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

The public was able to attend the dawn service on Sunday for the first time since 2019. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Mr Morrison said Sergeant Russell's widow, Kylie, described their daughter as being a lot like her father, who lived with "a strong sense of duty".

A few hours later at the national ceremony, the Chief of Air Force highlighted another who felt compelled to do his bit.

Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld relayed the story of the late Squadron Leader Peter Jensen, who was born in 1921, just a few days after the Royal Australian Air Force itself.

Squadron Leader Jensen served in World War II, sinking multiple U-boats and showing compassion and mercy by dropping a lifeboat to desperate submariners in the water.

Veterans observe the national ceremony at the Australian War Memorial. Picture: Keegan Carroll

Veterans observe the national ceremony at the Australian War Memorial. Picture: Keegan Carroll

"In his four years of service, he suffered the deaths of his friends, the torment of not knowing if a sortie over water would be his last, and 17 hours in a life raft after his flying boat was shot to pieces by enemy aircraft," Air Marshal Hupfeld said.

"Even so, on each occasion, when the time came, he got up, donned his flak jacket, climbed aboard, and did what had to be done."

The war eventually ended, but Squadron Leader Jensen's service continued and he helped create a community that provided support and friendships for veterans.

He died earlier this month, just a few days shy of his 100th birthday.

Air Marshal Hupfeld said Squadron Leader Jensen embodied the Anzac spirit, believing himself to just be an ordinary person who had served his country and community.

Members of the Navy arrive at the national ceremony on Anzac Day. Picture: Keegan Carroll

Members of the Navy arrive at the national ceremony on Anzac Day. Picture: Keegan Carroll

"The beautiful marble monuments we chisel will eventually erode," he said.

"The grand iron statues we cast will eventually rust.

"So let us carve them from our stories, and let them live eternal in our collective memory.

"These are the people and the stories of our nation.

"Lest we forget."

Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content:

This story Together again, Australians prove Anzac spirit lives on first appeared on The Canberra Times.