As dawn broke over Mount Maunganui on Anzac Day, a silence of thousands was broken only by crashing waves and the footfalls of military personnel marking each corner of an illuminated cenotaph.

Bagpipes then sounded as a procession of soldiers marched to the cenotaph on Marine Parade. The soldiers, flanked by police, Navy and other defence forces marched in unison and stood tall as the dawn service began.

People spilled onto the streets and filled the beach and Mount Drury, greeting the soldiers with applause as the procession approached the cenotaph.

Rousing national anthems of Australia and New Zealand were led by Mount Maunganui College student Stella Affleck before a prayer by Mount Maunganui RSA Reverend Marie Gilpin. Mount Maunganui RSA President Derek Williams paid tribute to the lives lost.

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Mr Williams said this year marked the 100th anniversary of what was New Zealand Defence Forces' "darkest day".

"In terms of lives lost, 1917 was the most costly for our forces on the Western Front."

Of those who did not die on the battlefield, many died of their wounds in the following days, he said.

"We will remember them".

Two older members of the RSA placed a wreath at the cenotaph and a sole trumpet rung out with the Last Post as soldiers marched out, followed by the four military personnel guarding the cenotaph.

Children wrapped in jackets and hats tentatively approached the structure and placed poppies at its base. Others put hand-made crosses while other soldiers saluted their peers no longer living.

Among the children were Rochelle Price's daughters, aged 5 and 7.

"I thought it would be a good opportunity to bring the girls along so they can see the servicemen and know that they are at an age where they are more aware of what this is about," Ms Price said.

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"It's also a great way to remember their great-granddad. Every year we will be here."

The Mount Maunganui service was the first for Deb Griffiths, who moved to New Zealand from South Africa 15 years ago.

Ms Griffiths also brought her daughter, 7, along to pay tribute."Being South African, we weren't really involved in it [the Anzac force]. It's not something that had much importance on my heritage but being in New Zealand, I've always observed it for the importance it has on friends and people I know, but I'd never been to a dawn service before."

Ms Griffiths said she felt she had been in New Zealand "long enough" by now to attend yesterday's service.

"I'm actually enjoying getting up in the morning and being part of the people, part of this; it seems to be a cathartic experience. My friend's great-grandfather fought, so it's good to be here to support her."

The crowd may have thinned a little but the Tauranga RSA's dawn service to commemorate those who never made it home has lost none of its poignancy.

Across town, fewer than a thousand attended the service at the club's Greerton cenotaph. Numbers were down from the surge of enthusiasm that began with the centennial of the start of World War I in 2014.

Lights bathed the cenotaph, with the silver moon offering no help to illuminate proceedings in the brisk coolness of the early morning.

Tauranga City Brass Band provided musical accompaniment to the hymns, with Reverend John Hebenton of St Georges Anglican Church leading the prayer to remember those who suffered in wars and to bring the world to the day when nations no longer needed to make war on nations.

Reverend John Hebenton of St Georges Anglican Church leads a prayer to remember those who suffered in wars during the dawn service at the Greerton cenotaph. Photo/Andrew Warner
Reverend John Hebenton of St Georges Anglican Church leads a prayer to remember those who suffered in wars during the dawn service at the Greerton cenotaph. Photo/Andrew Warner

The Anzac Dedication was read by club president Heather Waldron, who then placed a wreath at the base of the cenotaph in memory of the fallen.

As the gloom gave way to the first hint of dawn, she said the comrades who did not return from battlefields were still near in spirit.

"Let us therefore once more dedicate ourselves to the service of the ideals for which they died."

The emotional climax of the service was the reading of The Ode and the playing of the Last Post by Peter Cranson, followed by one minute's silence and then the Reveille.

Lisa Hunn who will shortly become the first woman to command a Royal New Zealand Navy ship, the HMNZS Te Mana, gave the address. She said the high tempo of operational deployments in recent times had changed the face of New Zealand's veteran population, which now numbered more than 30,000.

"It is now a younger group, containing many more women. Compared with the older generation, these younger veterans have had different experiences, but they are still veterans and need our support."

The readings were taken by Tauranga Boys' College student Flynn Kelly and Tauranga Girls' College student Madison Randall, with Madison reading Pastures Green by New Zealand war poet Mike Subritzky and Flynn reading Absolution by English war poet Siegfried Sassoon.