IT was an Anzac Day like never before in Warrnambool on Saturday when about 8000 people turned out for the dawn service and about 3000 braved continuous rain for the mid-morning commemoration.
Record numbers also turned out to other south-west ceremonies which marked the 100th anniversary of the first Gallipoli landing by Australian and New Zealand troops which forged the Anzac tradition.
Warrnambool RSL sub-branch president John Miles summarised the poignant meaning with his opening address to the dawn service - "it's time to stop and remember all those gallant young men and women who have paid the supreme sacrifice not only in the first world war, but all wars following and to remember all those who have suffered physically and mentally.
"As we stand here in the half light of the dawn we carry on the tradition," he said.
Less than 30 minutes earlier hundreds assembled around the Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village fort where two Napoleonic era cannon were fired, sending spectacular flames into the darkness.
Organisers and veterans said they had never seen such a large crowd for a Warrnambool dawn service.
"It was sensational, said scout leader Norm Sheppard who has attended Anzac services for the past 61 years since he was an 11-year-old.
Spectators including infants began arriving before 5am as a large electronic screen on Cannon Hill began beaming documentaries of local involvement in the war and crosses to ABC-TV coverage of other Anzac Day events.
Car parking spaces were filled for several blocks away.
Shortly before the 6am dawn service a section of the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd was split to make way for veterans marching out of the darkness to a drumbeat towards the brightly-lit cenotaph.
Then Lighthorse re-enactment group member and RSL historian Dave McGinness fired two rounds from a .303 rifle as Mr Miles stepped onto the dias to start the ceremony.
His audience stood in silence soaking up the significance of the occasion, reminded that the Great War took the lives of 61,000 Australians at a time when the nation's population was less than five million and just 13 years old as a nation in its own right.
Catholic priest Father Lawrie O'Toole invoked a prayer for peace and gave thanks for the nation's liberty brought by those who gave their lives in war.
Like an open-air church service he lead the crowd in reciting the Lord's Prayer.
Among the crowd was former Australian peackeeper in East Timor, John Stapleton who served 13 years in the army.
"The turnout today was unbelieveable," he said.
Rick Reynolds, 76, of Hobart wore 12 family medals from wars stretching from the eras of Queen Victorian to Queen Elizabeth II starting with the Sudan uprising in 1885.
His father fought in World War I and also enlisted in World War II while Rick served in the navy in the Malayan Emergency and other assignments.
"I saw on the what Warrnambool was planning and decided to visit," he said. "It was pretty impressive and your memorial is fabulous."
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