The gathering had begun well before I arrived at 4:15am.
The first thousand were quietly walking towards the half-lit finger of granite which is our State War Memorial. The memorial where all who left this State and died for Australia are recorded. Just one of hundreds of memorials and lists of names scattered around Western Australia.
The Flame of Remembrance was bright in the darkness.
I counted five big screens around the area so more could see what was about to happen on the steps of the Memorial.
Quiet and still. The growing crowd created only a small, low break in the pre-dawn silence. Hushed greetings between friends, generations and races.
A voice began speaking, talking of the building of the Burma Railway. That horrific event during World War Two. Leaving the past, he told us of what was to come. The Ode, the wreath-layings, the Last Post, the minute of silence and the Rouse. He requested silence of the silent, standing crowd during the formalities.
The Ode was shown on the screen and many recited it in their hearts yet only one voice spoke.
- They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
- Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow.
- They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
- They fell with their faces to the foe.
- They shall grow not 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.
The Wreath-laying began. We had been warned that it would take time and it did.
The silence continued. In a football stadium sized crowd which had swelled to over 40,000 the silence was intense, tangible. Not even the babies complained. Close on a hundred wreaths were laid.
The Last Post was finally sounded and the still silent crowd straightened their backs just a little. Old men and women with walking sticks and in wheel-chairs, younger men and women along with their children all stood that little taller.
There were tears. Quiet, restrained but real as people remembered those they had lost or those they had never known.
The Rouse, Australia’s version of Reveille, was bugled and as the last note hung in the air, a lone magpie warbled. For even the birds had been silent during the service. A RAAF aircraft flew overhead.
A final speech was given, speaking of the silence. The silence we all know before we attempt something dangerous or difficult. The silence before the dawn.
And the sky continued to brighten.
As we slowly moved away still-quiet conversations were interrupted by a flight of six bi-planes which flew over.
With so many people all trying to leave I knew the traffic would be gridlocked for some time. So I went looking for the tree-plaque which honours my Great Uncle Ted. I found it and discovered that the tree which accompanies the plaque had been replaced. This is the third tree on this spot which has grown in his memory.
Every year all the plaques are decorated by a flower and a flag. The fallen are remembered.
I eventually drove out of Kings Park about an hour and a half after the Service had ended. It was only then that I realised that it had been a totally secular gathering. No prayers, hymns or sermons.
Just remembering what we have all lost.