ANZAC Day (which for the non-Australians and New Zealanders reading the forum stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) which is always observed on 25th April and is the day of the year in which our respective nations pause to remember all those killed, died of wounds or disease and who were wounded or maimed etc in the service of our two countries. ANZAC Day is very special to the citizens of both countries given our very largely shared military history and experience.
This year, I was in Phnom Penh on 25th April and was privileged to attend this Dawn Service of Remembrance, the 98th, at the new Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh. It is also the 70 remembrance of all those who toiled, suffered and died as prisoners of war, and as civilian forced-labour, at the hands of the Japanese during World War Two at Hell Fire Pass, constructing the infamous Burma Railway
ANZAC Day had been well advertised in the English language print media and all nationals of each country and their Khmer guests were invited to attend. As could others if so inclined.
It's an early start to the day. A quick phone call at 04:00 am to ensure that my tuk-tuk driver is at least awake and either waiting for me or on his way to pick me up. I need not have worried because he had set up his hammock inside his tuk-tuk and spent the night sleeping right outside the front door of the Blue Lime! He comes from a province other than Phnom Penh and his "home" is his tuk-tuk.
At 04:30 am my two Khmer guests, Khom and Sokun, two members of the part-time Tourist Assistants group, arrive right on time dressed in their lovely traditional Khmer lace tops and beautiful silk skirts, so we climb aboard and set off through the deserted streets of Phnom Penh. As we drove, I was once again stuck by the beauty of this fine city, once described as the Pearl of the Orient. At 04:30 am the only people about were an occasional street sweeper and, with the elegant street lights still on, and without any traffic, it was easy to appreciate the lovely wide boulevards and gardens of the city.
On arrival at the Australian Embassy, there was the usual security screening and identity checks and searching of bags etc. However, as we were only being admitted to the lovely grounds of the Embassy and not in to the embassy itself, we were given back our mobile phones and cameras. We were also given a very tasteful printed Form of Service and a candle in a cup with which to help read the form of service and the words of the several non-denominational hymns.
The Dawn Service followed the usual format and as dawn arrived I was surprised to see circa 200 or more people in the grounds around me and I was happy to see many veterans wearing their medals, either full sized or miniatures, and a goodly number of Khmers attending.
After the traditional wreath layings and at the conclusion of the service, I was very pleasantly surprised to find that all those assembled were invited to a breakfast at the Cambodiana Hotel, out on the Mekong Terrace, overlooking the confluence of the Tonle Sap and the Mekong Rivers. A beautiful setting for breakfast indeed.
Over the years I've attended many ANZAC Day Dawn Services and in different parts of the world but this has to have been the most tasteful and memorable except, possibly, those in Singapore surrounded by the headstones of the fallen.
My sincere congratulations to the Australian Defence Liaison Section at the Australian Embassy Phnom Penh. You did Australia and it's veterans past and present proud.
All best regards. Ian
Camp Phnom Penh @ Blue Lime standards room. Next for Kampong Chhnang
PS. I apologise for the lower case for ANZAC in the heading but Trip Adviser pre-post censorship will NOT accept it in it's correct form and admonished me for use of capitals in the heading.Edited: 25 April 2013, 23:07