They gathered in their hundreds, young and old, shielded from the cold in beanies, scarves and thick coats, with medals and poppies pinned proudly to their chests.
They strode together, mostly in silence, some murmuring early morning greetings as they reached the Officer Memorial Gates and took up their positions – all eager to pay their respects on this chilly ANZAC Day morning.
A persistent breeze nipped at the Victorian, Australian and New Zealand flags as they were lowered to half mast, and then the service began.
MC’d by Rob Porter of the Officer and District Community Association, the event attracted an even bigger crowd than last year, and was supported by sporting clubs, scout groups, community associations and schools from around the area.
As crows and magpies delivered their own musical tribute from the trees that surrounded the reserve, Cardinia Shire councillor Brett Owen paid tribute to both past and current servicemen and women, describing them as “courageous, compassionate, resolute and resilient”.
“We think of them with gratitude and honour those gone before,” he said.
Mr Owen led the wreath-laying with an offering from Cardinia Shire Council, before schools and community groups stepped forward with their own contributions.
Then, the gates were opened and dozens poured back through them to tie sprigs of rosemary and colourful poppies to the bars, pausing to reflect on the horror and tragedy of war.
The scent of the herb of remembrance drifted across the crowd as John Tivendale, an ex-Vietnam serviceman, read the Ode. A minute of silence was punctuated only by the dawn chorus, and concluded when the crowd whispered as one: ‘Lest we forget’.
The national anthem was sung by students from Officer Primary School as the service reached its end.
Teacher Julian De Zilva said it was important to involve students in these historical events.
“The students love the opportunity to get involved and represent the school and be part of the service. We want to keep this tradition running and we want them to understand the significance of the day and what it means to so many people,” he said.
Mr Porter also reflected on the number of youths involved.
“It’s great to see so many young people. When I was a young person, war was taboo because we’d lost parents, uncles and others in the war and no one talked about it. But since then, I think people have realised what a wonderful country we have here, and they’ve probably so grateful for the people that went and gave their lives and service to give us such a free country that they now want to be part of it.”
He himself has long been associated with the war memorial in Officer.
“My father used to tend to these gates, since 1951 when they were put here, and I tend to do it now. We’re very proud of our gates,” he said.