Anzac Day 2023: Dawn Service at Hellfire Pass

Home » Anzac Day 2023: Dawn Service at Hellfire Pass

25 April is Anzac Day. Anzac is an acronym and stands for Australia and New Zealand Army Corps. The day was first observed in 1916 in London and Australia to remember those who gave their lives in service to their country during the Gallipoli campaign in WW1, which was known as the great war at the time. The date was chosen as it was the first day that the ANZACs landed at Gallipoli, Turkey, and dawn being the time that the troops landed.

Other origin stories for Anzac Day theorize that Reverend Arthur Ernest White held a religious dawn service in Albany, Western Australia while serving as one of the padres of the ANZACs just prior to leaving Australia with the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). It is believed that before embarkation, at 4am, he conducted a service for all the men of his battalion. In 1918, after being shipped back to Australia, after being gassed and wounded in the war, he was given permission to hold a special requiem mass for the battle dead.

Nonetheless, regardless of the origin, Anzac Day is now a national holiday in Australia and New Zealand, with ceremonies being carried out across the world, including London, Kanchanaburi, Singapore, across the United States and various other countries.

This year, I was honoured to be able to attend together with Dr. Paul Crosio, a former reservist in the Australian Defence Force on behalf of Silk Legal and be able to show our gratitude to those who have served and honour the fallen. The Ode to Remembrance (read at the service by Commander Julian Conway of the Royal New Zealand Navy), which is the fourth stanza of Laurance Binyon’s poem “For the Fallen” (composed as a tribute to all who lost their lives in WW1) says it best:

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.

It was a sobering experience trudging down from the comfortable airconditioned bus to the pass where the ceremony was held, thinking of the approximately 200,000 Southeast Asian civilians and over 60,000 POWs of various nations who were forced into constructing the entire 415 km railway from Ban Pong, Ratchaburi, Thailand (approx. 80 km from downtown Bangkok) to Rangoon (now known as Yangon), Myanmar.

Hellfire Pass, where the dawn service ceremony was held is approximately 80 km from the famous “Bridge Over the River Kwai”. Hellfire Pass, located in the Tenasserim Hills, was a particularly difficult section of the line to build, with sixty-nine laborers beaten to death. The pass was so named, not for the above atrocity, but because when lit by burning torches, and full of emaciated forced laborers, the scene literally looked like hell. When we got off our comfortable, airconditioned bus, we made probably a similar walk down to the pass, however we had torches, mosquito spray, comfortable clothes, and good shoes. The laborers of 1942-1943 would have had none of that, meagre rations and were expected to work 12-18 hour days with primitive hand tools, in arduous conditions, with vicious guards at the height of a particularly wet monsoon season from June through August 1943.

hellfire pass illuminated by oil burning torches

Hellfire Pass, photographed just prior to the commencement of the Dawn Service on 25 April 2023.

Today, the ceremony included representatives from The Royal New Zealand Navy, H.E. Jonathan Kings (Ambassador of New Zealand to Thailand), Commander Julian Conway (Royal New Zealand Navy), H.E. Angela Macdonald (Ambassador of Australia to Thailand), The Honourable Andrew Giles (Australian MP and Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs), Air Vice Marshal Darren Goldie (Royal Australian Air Force), and Group Captain Ritchie Cunningham (Royal Australian Air Force). Representatives from Thailand included Khun Supamongkol Boochataites (Vice Governor of Kanchanaburi), Major General Sura Saiubol (Ministry of Defence), and Major General Pawn Boonbundal (Royal Thai Armed Forces). There was also a wreath placed to honor all veterans, which was placed by Private Alexander Reade and Private Kye Chipperfield.

The moment of silence (two minutes) just as dawn was breaking was a moment I won’t forget, the sound of insects and birds coming to life while remembering the lives that were lost. That is what this day is about. It is about remembrance, lest we forget, and in remembrance of the fact that war is hell. Let us not repeat it. We honour all of those who served their respective countries. All gave some, Some gave all.

Another thing I learned at the ceremony, was the utter devastation suffered by the ANZACs. New Zealand suffered around 8000 casualties, including 2779 dead. Australia suffered 28,000 casualties with more than 8700 fatalities. To put this in perspective, just under ten percent of New Zealand’s then population of 1.1 million served overseas, of which more than 18,000 died. From Australia’s then population of fewer than five million, 416,809 men enlisted, of which over 60,000 were killed and 156,000 wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner. Numbers taken from:,the%20impact%20of%20the%20war and respectively.

One of the lighter moments from the event was the “GunFire Breakfast”, it has become one of the traditions of the day. A “Gunfire Breakfast” is black coffee with rum added, and was served shortly after the dawn ceremonies, legend has it that it was the same “breakfast” taken by many soldiers before facing the battle of Gallipoli. At the service the coffee was accompanied by an “Anzac Biscuit” (not cookie – Anzac biscuits have to be sold as biscuits and not cookies, as Australia has a ban on commercial goods that use the term Anzac, except for these biscuits). The biscuit is sweet, made using rolled oats, flour, sugar, fat and flavoured with golden syrup. These cookies were apparently baked by housewives as a treat for the troops, as they don’t spoil easily.

As a sidenote, this is explicitly laid out by Department of Veterans’ Affairs in Australia: New Zealand has similar legislature, and explains the different capitalizations used in this article:

I would like to thank AustCham for arranging the trip. It was an unforgettable and emotional experience, and the the beginning of a commitment to pay homage and respect to the brave service men and women who sacrificed so much so we can be free.

Silk Legal, as the only Australian managed law firm in Thailand, were proud to attend Anzac Day and are proud to support the brave men and women who are serving and have served their country, and we are honoured to include among our staff Creighton Franz who served in Afghanistan and Iraq. We also need to remember that the scars of war are not just physical, and those who serve must live on with the memories of what they endured.

Lest we forget


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