Rain or shine, several thousand people are expected to take part in the Anzac Day Dawn Service in Whangarei.

In past years rain and wind haven't put people off turning up to show their respects for the many men and women who have served their country in wartime and in peace.

Last year, an estimated 7500 people took part - hundreds of children among them, many wearing their old family members' medals and insignia.

"I think Whangarei is a little bit special in the number of people who take part," said Anzac Dawn Service co-ordinator Ian Salter.

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The range of participating groups and the span of the marchers' ages are always features, and it is very important to the past soldiers and service women that children play a large part, he said.

"We encourage and include children where we can. The schools are made aware of Anzac, it is part our history teaching," Mr Salter said.

Each year the RSA chooses a different local high school whose head prefects read the names of the fallen on the memorial wall at the Cenotaph.

The march itself steps off from outside the RSA in Rust Ave and ends in the Cenotaph at Lauri Hall Park.

People start gathering outside the RSA at 5.30am, the Parade "falls-in" at 5.40am and steps-out at 5.50am.

"Rain or shine," Mr Salter said, "Although we do have a weather contingency plan. We'd make other arrangements if it was cyclone or something really bad."

The parade will be led by a police car, then the combined pipes and brass bands, behind which will come the flag bearers, from left to right carrying New Zealand, Australian, United Kingdom, then the army, navy, air force and merchant navy flags.

Then come the ranked personnel and the nine contingents in the following order: returned service personnel, family members, current serving members of the defence forces and the New Zealand Police, cadet forces, the Red Cross, Zonta, uniformed children and youth clubs like Scouts, Guides and Girls Brigade, then pupils from the combined schools, with a police car at the back.

Thousands of people tend to ''fall-in'' as the march progresses.

After the service, the parade marches back to Rust Ave and the general public disperses, while the veterans and other personnel go into the RSA for speeches, refreshments and to further soak in the spirit of Anzac Day.

The day that will forever be known by that name has grown far beyond its beginnings forged in the hills and trenches of Gallipoli, although it remains at the heart of the day.

World War II, Korea, Malaya, Borneo, Vietnam, the Middle East are among overseas conflicts and peace keeping missions New Zealand's defence forces have taken part in since then.