This is a sacred shrine.
Dawn is yet to break and thousands have gathered in silence to remember those who have gone before. The softly lit dome of the Australian War Memorial displays the names of those that have fallen on its sandstone walls. Name after name silently answering an immortal roll call.
At this peaceful hour one hundred years before, violence was set to rain down upon the ANZACs. Approaching the beach and its towering cliffs, the boats slipped and sploshed towards the shore and a battle that would be etched into history and a young nation’s identity.
My wife’s great grandfather sat in one of those boats, then disembarked and “went under four times” before he finally made it to the beach. His diary has survived to this day and is chilling in its recollections – a long silent voice that has survived a century. Our children now sit patiently in the icy pre-dawn air, listening to the words of the service and taking in the sights of the solemnity that surrounds them. They are vaguely aware of their ANZAC heritage, their family loss at Hamel, and their grandfathers’ combined service in New Guinea, Korea and Vietnam.
I look back towards the memorial, knowing that within one of its many halls sits a lone aircraft; probably still enveloped in darkness. Its silver nose and clear canopy surrounded by artefacts of a lesser known war and its cannon’s muzzles now blanked and fallen silent. Yet within the confines of that very cockpit my father flew into combat for the first time. Who was he then? I shall never know. His wars were decades passed before I came to call him ‘Dad’.
The first rays of light now edge above the dome and the names continue to scroll upon the sandstone. My thoughts are a mere drop in the sea of sentiment that swirls about me and I even feel a little selfish, for my father made it home when so many of his mates did not. Their legacy lies in the freedom of my children seated on the rug beneath the now-fading stars of the Southern Cross and they will not be forgotten.
And still more names continue to scroll down those sacred sandstone walls…