There are thousands of Australians and New Zealanders in London. It should come as no surprise, then, that Anzac Day is commemorated every year with a dawn service, as it would be in Australia or New Zealand.
The dawn service is held at Wellington Arch on Hyde Park Corner (just across the road from Hyde Park, somewhat ironically) where there are Australian and New Zealand war memorials. As this year was the 100th anniversary of Gallipoli, we decided it was a pretty good reason to get up early and head to a dawn service.
Hyde Park Corner is at least 45 minutes’ travel from our place, and advice from the British government (who ran the event this year in recognition of the 100th anniversary, unlike normal when the Australian and New Zealand governments run it) was to arrive by 4am (it was due to start at 5am). If 4am was the latest they suggested we arrive, I thought we should probably be aiming for 3:30… which meant leaving home at 2:45am at the latest… which meant getting up at 2:15am.
And that is just absurd. As my sister Michelle said, one does not wake up at 2am. One arranges to already be awake at 2am.
Or, one can get a hotel room 15 minutes’ walk from Hyde Park corner and thereby wake up an hour later.
Which is what we did. I found a hotel room in Belgravia (I was very impressed to find one for £70!) where we spent the Friday night. We got there a bit later than intended, but were in bed by 11pm, which meant we had at least 4 hours’ sleep before getting up at 3:15am. The streets glistened with fresh rain, but it had stopped by the time we left the hotel. We actually found a bus which took us half way to Hyde Park Corner, too.
There were clearly already hundreds of people on the site. I was impressed by the number of police everywhere, and a little amused by the fact we had to go through metal detectors to get in. The queue took us half an hour just to get in, and it began to drizzle softly. I was irritated when people began putting up umbrellas. Are you people Australian or not?? I get wetter when Andre’s ironing and sprays me with the iron.
It didn’t last too long though and stopped by the time the service started after an hour of waiting in the dark. We were so far back we couldn’t see anything of what was going on, aside from a few instances where something took place on top of Wellington Arch (such as cultural displays by an aboriginal and maori, and the bugler).
It made me grin to hear a familiar voice leading the event though (Adam Hills) and to be honest I think he would have done a better job of leading the national anthem than the singer who did.
There were a few hymns, which surprised me, including one or two I didn’t recognise. Apparently Princess Anne was there, as well as a few Australian and New Zealand politicians – although a lot of VIPs were this year at Gallipoli, such as Prince Charles, Prince Harry, and the Australian and New Zealand prime ministers.
The service ended with the Last Post performed by a British brigadier bugler on top of Wellington Arch (whose sister, incidentally, is friends with my uncle & aunty. What are the chances?!)
There was also an opportunity to lay wreathes at each of the New Zealand and Australian war memorials.
And then it was back to the hotel – thanks to the Met Police for blocking off traffic to let everyone out! – for a bit more sleep!