Abbas Bagheri grew up in a war zone but it took coming to peaceful New Zealand to appreciate the respect Kiwis have for those who gave their lives in war.
Bagheri is one of 10 Hamilton-based Afghan interpreters who moved to the city last year to start a new life after risking his working for the New Zealand Defence Force and police in his home country.
Although it was Bagheri's second Anzac Day - he went to a service in Auckland three days after arriving in the country last year - yesterday was more special as he was able to march with the veterans and their families, and members of other agencies. "It was very nice and very good, and I'm proud that I am a member of the New Zealand people that came here and gathered at this ceremony," Bagheri said.
They were part of a huge crowd which some are labelling the biggest they have seen for many years, in spite of forecast thunderstorms.
Bagheri said that although a ceremony was held in his home province of Bamiyan, here he got to see "the special respect for the people that lost their life in the war and I understand how important they are".
Bagheri was a teenager when he first heard of the Kiwi culture while talking to soldiers involved in the provincial reconstruction team.
"Sometimes when with the soldiers and people in the bazaar, we spoke together and spoke about different cultures . . . most of the time we were talking, the main question I had was about the haka. It was very interesting for me."
Hamilton City Council city events manager Tracey Wood said the dawn service was "definitely" larger than last year.
It showed Hamilton people were full of national pride, she said.
Hamilton resident Bob Beveridge and wife Lyn were two of the several thousand who got up for the dawn service.
Although it was guilt more than anything for Bob Beveridge, who admitted it was his first Anzac service. He described it as "marvellous", with the music "very moving".
But Hamilton man Kevin Groom, 41, is a regular on Anzac Day.
Sporting his grandfather's and great-grandfather's 13 war medals proudly on his chest, he said he had been attending since he was a nipper.
With wife Zsuzsanna at his side, Groom said he came as a mark of respect for his great-grandfather Sam Brown - who served in both world wars - and his grandfather Thomas Skulander.
He also noticed a larger turnout than previous years.
Waikato University students Aidan Edwards, 21, and sister, Mischelle, 19, of Gisborne, arrived after a little bit after the dawn service to get a good spot for the civic service at 10am, which also boasted a big crowd.
Aidan Edwards was holding a photo of their grandmother, Rita Te Kawa, who served in the Women's Auxiliary Army Core between 1943 and 1946 - she died last month, aged 88.
Mischelle carried the group photo of Te Kawa and her four brothers, Lieutenant Nopera Te Kawa, Private Hemi Te Kawa, Ni Te Kawa and Popata Te Kawa who also served during World War II.
Hamilton man Andrew Baillie took his daughter, Cameron, 4, along and the pair were busy handing out homebaked Anzac biscuits to the mid-morning crowd.
Baillie said the day ran deeper than baked goods - they also remembered both of his grandfathers who served at Gallipoli, Passchendaele, Crete, and in the RNZAF and J Force.