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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Toowoomba's First Dawn Service

When was our first Dawn Service in Toowoomba?

It seems that many towns want to claim that the first Dawn Service was held on their patch. None more so than Toowoomba. For those who attended one of the many services held in the Toowoomba Regional Council area, they possibly would have noted that on page 12 of the Toowoomba 100th Anniversary Anzac Day Commemoration Service handout it says: "First Dawn Service in Australia conducted in Toowoomba, 25th April, 1922."

The Society has done extensive research on this issue and as Rockhampton held a "Daybreak Service" on 25th April 1916 perhaps they deserve the credit of the first Dawn Service. Part of the wording of the newspaper article that appeared in the Morning Bulletin on the 26th April said "The morning broke dull and cheerless; but just as the service started at half-past six o'clock the sun burst through the clouds and shone as gloriously and as brightly as it did on that memorable and never to be forgotten 25th of April, 1915, when the Australians and New Zealanders, with no traditions behind them, emerged from the obscure and, with one magnificent achievement, gained a niche in the temple of fame and performed a feat which will live on so long as time endures.

So far as the sentence that appears in the handout which says:

"At dawn on the 25th April 1919, Colonel Geo. Harrington and a few returned mates met at Picnic Point to remember comrades who perished at Gallipoli and on the Battlefields of France. In true Aussie stile (sic) they toasted their memory in rum. They did the same thing again in 1920 & 21 with the numbers increasing each year it was suggested that a more formal gathering was needed so in 1922 a Formal Service was conducted. Speeches were made, Prayers were said, the Ode was read followed by a Bugler sounding Last Post and Reveille. And the National Anthem was sung."

The George Robert Harrington referred to was a Captain and at one stage an Acting-Major. On the 25th April, 1919 he was still in England with his English wife waiting to come home on the Wahehe. This information was contained not only in his WWI dossier, but also in an article in the Darling Downs Gazette on 7th June 1919 advising as follows: "Capt (Acting-Major) G. R. Harrington, has advised his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Geo. Harrington, Neil-street that he is leaving London in the troop-ship Wahehe, and expects to arrive about the end of this month".

George had worked in the railway before leaving for active service and therefore his job would have been waiting for him when he got home. In 1919, according to the electoral roll, he and his wife Alice Annie are shown living in Northgate and he was a railway employee. They were still there in 1926 when he was shown as being a clerk, whether or not still in the railway or somewhere else is not clear. However he and Alice moved to Toowoomba sometime before 1930 and were living in Eleanor Street.

This puts paid to the story that George Harrington was anywhere near Picnic Point on Anzac Day 1919 and who knows if George came to Toowoomba in 1920 and 1921.

Now for the Anzac Dawn Service and its beginnings. The Darling Downs Gazette of 24th April 1922 advised the Returned Soldiers' Arrangements were as follows:

"The R.S.S.I.L.A. will meet at 9 a.m. at the Cemetery and place memorial cards on the graves of the returned soldiers resting there. All returned soldiers are asked to assemble at the drill shed, Margaret-street, at 10 a.m. in uniform, if available. The parade will march to the monument where Canon Davies will deliver a short address at 10.30, after which the President of the League will place a wreath and the 'Last Post' will be sounded by Bandmaster J. Compton". Who then was organising the formal gathering with speeches etc.? The only mention of dawn was in a report in the Toowoomba Chronicle which said "The sun had hardly risen yesterday morning when a mother placed upon the glorious monument at the corner of Ruthven and Margaret streets her silent token - a remembrance of her loved one." There is no mention of anyone else being there but rather the next article speaks of the Soldiers Fathers Association journey to the Cemetery.

The first reference to a Dawn Service was in 1947. On 19th April the following mention was made

"Members are requested to watch the press for particulars relating to the "Dawn Service" to be held at the Mother's Memorial on Anzac Morning commencing at 5 o'clock. This will be the first occasion on which a "Dawn Service" has been held in Toowoomba and it is hoped that there will be a good attendance of both former Servicemen and the public."

The full program then appears in the Toowoomba Chronicle when mention is also made that the 10.15 service will conclude at 10.40 a.m. when church parades will be formed under the direction of Major G. R. Harrington.