Anne Gregory has never been to a dawn service.
“I’ve always said I want to go before I die. I hope this counts,” she said.
Anne has lived in Lysander Street in Brighton East for 47 years, across the road from World War II veteran Frank Sims.
Standing in the dim light of dawn, next to tealight candles and paper poppies taped to her fence, she listened to Mr Sims’s story for the first time:
Frank was in the Royal Australian Air Force for just over three years.
Frank Sims was disappointed he could not celebrate Anzac Day with his fellow veterans but was grateful some of his neighbours joined in the driveway ceremony. (ABC News: Ron Ekkel)
He joined on his 18th birthday — something his mother was not too happy about.
“Three years and four months in the air force, she worried about me the whole time,” Frank said.
The now-96-year-old flew a Sunderland flying boat with a crew of 10 men from the north of Scotland to the coast of Norway.
“It was a very big plane, I was the observer navigator and bomb aimer. We were looking for German U-boats — submarines.”
Frank Sims fought in the Royal Australian Air Force for three years and four months. (ABC News: Rachel Clayton)
After Norway, Frank was never posted to a squadron and instead became part of a group of pilots flying missions, reconnaissance and “odd jobs” for the air ministry crew in the United Kingdom.
Frank’s son Rob suspects his father was secretly flying for MI6 before it was officially recognised in the 1990s.
He fought alongside men from England, Scotland and Ireland. He was the only Australian.
Anzac Day has always been a sacred tradition in which Frank remembers those men.
He would usually meet with the few remaining members of The Odd Bods Association; formed in 1947 by ex-RAAF and Allied Air Force members who had served in the UK, Europe and the Middle East.
At its peak there were 500 members.
Frank Sims (third from right) on a Sunderland plane with other servicemen during World War II. (ABC News: Rachel Clayton)
“We gather around to meet old friends and it’s always a great feeling. There’s not very many of us now, maybe five or six,” he said.
“There’s one chap who is the son of a dear, a very dear old friend and I meet him once a year on Anzac Day.”
This year, Frank stood in the driveway, five medals and a poppy pinned to his lapel, outside the home he built himself after returning from the war in 1948. He held a candle alongside his son Rob and three grandchildren.
“It’s really strange this year. I’m disappointed I couldn’t go, it’s not the same. This is a good way of doing it but it’s not the same.”
Ron Sims (left), his daughter Natasha, father Frank Sims, and two sons Cameron and Marlowe were up at 5:30am to begin lighting candles. (ABC News: Rachel Clayton)
While the pool of war veterans in Australia continues to shrink, Frank hopes the next generation carries on the tradition of Anzac Day long after he is gone.
“Anzac Day is special. I had two uncles in World War I, one received the Military Medal as a truck driver doing the same thing with his truck that Simpson did with his donkey; he went to the front line and brought back the dead and the wounded for 48 hours without stopping,” he said.
“I always think of them and my two cousins who were both in the war when I was, they’re long dead now but we all came back.”
His three grandchildren, having grown up hearing the stories of Grandad’s adventures overseas, understand the significance of April 25.
Grandson Marlowe said the day was about “remembering and celebrating our fallen soldiers and what they’ve done for us”.
“It’s great to be able to spend time with Grandpa so it’s lovely to march with him and this isn’t the same but it’s good enough.”
Across the road, Anne stood in her driveway listening to Frank and the faint sounds of someone playing the bugle a block away.
She is grateful that even though the coronavirus pandemic stopped Frank from celebrating in the traditional manner, it allowed her to hear stories from a man she had wondered about for decades.
“This has been quite moving,” she said.
“My father-in-law moved to Australia after the war in a converted Sunderland plane, just like what Frank flew. It took him nine days to get here.
“He liked the Australians he fought with so much that he moved here. I never knew all that about Frank.
“What a wonderful man.”