Anzac rituals resume for 'Rat of Tobruk'

·3-min read

Every single year, "Rat of Tobruk" Dennis Davis and granddaughter Fiona Brown break up their Anzac Day schedule with a quick Maccas run.

"Somewhere you can eat quick, get in and out," the 100-year-old told AAP.

Yet while Mr Davis and Ms Brown's April 25 ritual - the dawn service at Bella Vista in Sydney's northwest, followed by breakfast and a dash to the Sydney CBD parade - endures, 2020 was a little different.

With public attendance at dawn services barred due to the COVID-19 pandemic and marches called off, Mr Davis instead commemorated the 1915 Gallipoli landing at his Castle Hill retirement village.

Joined by a handful of other residents, Mr Davis stood outside with candle in hand and Australian flag nearby, listening to The Last Post via radio.

So he was glad normal service resumed in 2021, with the coronavirus largely contained in NSW and life returning to something resembling normal.

"We tried to get the whole village out but it wasn't possible," he said.

"Three or four of us went out, we kept distance at the time."

The Hornsby-based Ms Brown, 48, adds: "It was something different, and it was very special for (activities) to be local, in a way."

An exemption to the NSW public health orders was issued to allow 10,000 people to participate in the Sydney CBD march on Sunday.

Outside of the Sydney CBD, a maximum of 5000 people - excluding spectators - could participate in an outdoor Anzac Day march or dawn service.

As one of the few surviving 9th Division ex-servicemen of World War II, Mr Davis - who at Tobruk in 1941 helped defend the Libyan city's port from Nazi control - on Sunday marched alongside RSL NSW president Ray James.

"It's first of all a remembrance of what we went through," Mr Davis said.

"We didn't know we were making history ... I was a Rat of Tobruk, the siege of Tobruk, one of the longest sieges in the British Empire."

And for Ms Brown, April 25 is about family as much as service.

"I absolutely love travelling into town with Pop and being with Pop and just the way people respond to him, the thanks people give," she said.

In a memorable moment from the CBD march, 104-year-old WWII veteran Alf Carpenter stood up from his wheelchair and walked - with the help of two current officers - down Elizabeth Street towards Museum Station.

He was cheered on by the diminished but lively crowd lining the march.

The march followed Sunday's dawn service in the Sydney CBD, where the Royal Australian Air Force was celebrated for its 100 years of service.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian recited a poem before the Anzac Day address by Air Vice-Marshal Joe Iervasi, Air Commander Australia.

The Last Post was then played in the Sydney dark.

Air Vice-Marshal Iervasi told the story of Lieutenant George Merz, an Australian aviator supporting the British World War I effort in Mesopotamia in 1915 when his plane was forced down along the Tigris-Euphrates river.

Lt Merz and Kiwi co-pilot Lieutenant William Burn were then attacked by Arab Bedouin, becoming their nations' first air crew killed in combat.

"The stories of these Australians are the stories of service," he said.

"They exemplified our values of courage, respect, integrity and excellence ... none sought glory, but all sacrificed their lives in the service of our nation."