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Updated on December 26, 2012

ANZAC Day: NZ and Australia's shared memorial day

What is the collective noun for Australians and New Zealanders? These days the term is probably Australasians, but for an earlier generation they would probably have been called ANZACs. The Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) was the Australasian force sent to World War 1 and commanded by British officers. The term ANZAC may have become an obscure footnote to WW1 history the fact it didn't is due to one of the worst military defeats of the allies in WW1.

In 1915 the ANZACs formed part of the allied expedition sent out to capture the Gallipoli peninsular, then part of the Ottoman Empire, and today part of modern Turkey.

Photo: Luke Redman
Photo: Luke Redman

ANZAC Cove, Gallipoli Peninsular, Turkey

Photo: DragonWoman
Photo: DragonWoman

ANZAC Day 25 April 1915

On the 25 April, 1915 the ANZAC forces were landed on what is now known as ANZAC Cove, the landing was the wrong bay and instead of a gently sloping bay the attacking forces were faced with a very steep cliff which was well defended by the Ottoman forces at the top.

By the time that the forces were withdrawn in December 1915 33,512 of the 468,000 British troops were dead, 7,636 missing and 78,000 wounded Over 8,000 Australian and 2,700 New Zealand soldiers died. The ANZACs later served in Palestine and the Western Front.

The Ottoman commander who succesfully defended the penisnusla and prevented the allies from reaching Constantinople (Istanbul) was Mustafa Kemal who went on to found modern Turkey, taking the name Ataturk.

The ANZAC Spirit

In 1915 Australia had a population of five million - 330,000 served in the WW1, 59,000 were killed. New Zealand with a population of one million lost 18,000 men out of 110,000 and had 55000 wounded. Many consider that it was during this conflict that the Australian and New Zealanders ideas of "mateship" and loyalty were formed and this is what is known as the ANZAC spirit. The ANZAC legend was born in the defeat at Gallipoli. Australia had only been one country since 1901 - Gallipoli forged the nation quite literally.

Photo: Luke Redman
Photo: Luke Redman

The First ANZAC Day Ceremonies

Just 5 days after the Gallipoli landings, when first news of the disaster reached New Zealand a half-day holiday was declared and impromptu services held.

The following year, 1916, a public holiday was gazetted on 5 April. In New Zealand ANZAC Day was officially named in 1916, with ceremonies and services in Australia, New Zealand, London and a sports day for the soldiers in Egypt.

ANZAC Day was gazetted as a public holiday in New Zealand in 1921, after lobbying by the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services' Association, the RSA.

Also in 1921, Australia decided that ANZAC Day would be observed on 25 April each year. However, it was not observed uniformly in all the States.

During the 1920's ANZAC Day was established as a National Day of Commenoration for all the Australian and New Zealanders killed in the war. Dawn vigils, marches, memorial services, reunions all became part of the tradition at this time. After each major subsequent war that Australians and New Zealanders were involved in the day was broadened to remember those who served and died during WW2, Korean War, Vietnam War and other wars.

War Memorials

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Simple War Memorial Photo: MundooSydney War Memorial Photo: TobymWar Memorial, Hyde Park, Sydney
Simple War Memorial Photo: Mundoo
Simple War Memorial Photo: Mundoo
Sydney War Memorial Photo: Tobym
Sydney War Memorial Photo: Tobym
War Memorial, Hyde Park, Sydney
War Memorial, Hyde Park, Sydney

And the Band Played Waltzing Maltida

ANZAC Day Today

Australians and New Zealanders recognise 25 April as a ceremonial occasion. Commemorative services are held at dawn, the time of the original landing, across both nations.

Later in the day, ex-servicemen and women meet and join in marches through the major cities and many smaller centres. Commemorative ceremonies are held at war memorials around both countries. Almost every small town and city in the two countries has a war memorial, ranging from the basic to beautiful pieces of architecture in places such as Canberra, Sydney and Auckland. .

This is the verse of the ode that is said during the minutes of silence concluding the Dawn Parades:

They shall grow not old,

As we that are left grow old,

Age shall not weary them,

Nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun,

And in the morning

We will remember them.
Laurence Binyon (1869-1943), For the Fallen (1914), stanza 4 

The verse is traditionally concluded with the words "Lest We Forget."

Increasingly large numbers of Australians and New Zealanders now travel to ANZAC Cove itself to remember ANZAC Day along with the Turks. Until 1999, the Gallipoli Dawn Service was held at the Ari Burnu War Cemetery at ANZAC Cove, but the growing numbers of people attending resulted in the construction of a more spacious site on North Beach, known as the "ANZAC Commemorative Site". Over 15,000 people have attended on the day.

Dawn Service, Auckland, NZ

Turkish Veteran Photo: WalteMitty
Turkish Veteran Photo: WalteMitty

Australia's ANZAC Day

The ANZAC Day Parade from each state capital is televised live with commentary. These events are followed generally by social gatherings of veterans, hosted either in a pub or in an RSL Club, often including a traditional Australian gambling game called two-up, which was an extremely popular pastime with ANZAC soldiers.

The importance of this tradition is demonstrated by the fact that though most Australian states have laws forbidding gambling outside of designated licensed venues, on ANZAC Day it is legal to play "two-up".

New Zealand's ANZAC Day

New Zealand's Commemoration of ANZAC Day is similar, though on several occasions the day has become an opportunity for some groups for political protest. Over the years ceremonies have been disrupted by anti-Vietnam War protesters, peace groups, gay rights and women's rights groups.

The Author

Lis Sowerbutts  makes a living online developing passive online income streams


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