William & Kate Rise at Dawn to Honor War Veterans

Kate and William

WPA Pool/Getty

updated 04/24/2014 AT 6:55 PM ET

originally published 04/24/2014 AT 7:00 PM ET

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were up at dawn Friday to make a solemn, previously unannounced appearance at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

The royal couple quietly arrived around 5 a.m. to commemorate ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) day, a special day of remembrance.

Kate, 32, in a cream scarf, black coat and black leather gloves, stood with William, her hands clasped in front of her, as they listened to the early readings which were already underway. Pinned on his coat, William, 31, wore his two medals given for service to his grandmother Queen Elizabeth – the golden jubilee medal and diamond Jubilee medal.

The couple had wanted to attend the dawn ceremony as they knew how special the memorial is for Australia and New Zealand, and felt it was appropriate to be there, a royal source said.

Soon after William and Kate arrived, a young servicewoman reminded those present that the names and faces of the 40 soldiers killed in Afghanistan were being displayed on the memorial.

Tens of thousands of veterans, their families and members of the public gathered in the darkness to pay tribute. Some sat with candles. William and Kate and the others in the official party had small torches to read the order of service.

After two wreaths were laid at the Stone of Remembrance, the Australian army chaplain Peter Willis led the prayers. He spoke of the extreme gratitude for those “who laid their lives down for our sakes,” and added that we remember “with compassion those who still suffer” because of war.

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