The Dawn Service is conducted as part of Anzac Day ceremonies to honour those who have fallen in battle.
In the First World War, 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 they were awake, alert, and manning their weapons before first light. This is known as the ‘stand-to’.
After the First World War, returned soldiers sought the comradeship they 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 after the war.
The Dawn Service is a public ceremony, usually conducted on Anzac Day by the Returned and Services League of Australia with involvement from all three services of the Australian Defence Force.
The origins of the Dawn Service are not entirely clear and research has been undertaken by Australian military historians to determine its true beginnings.
Research indicates there are several possibilities for the first Dawn Services held. They include:
- a service held on the Western Front by an Australian battalion on 25 Apr 1916.
- a service held at Toowoomba Queensland in 1919 or 1920.
- a service conducted in Albany, Western Australia in 1923.
- a service held in the newly built memorial at Martin Place, Sydney in 1928.