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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By the time that the forces were withdrawn in December 1915 33,512 of the 468,000 British troops were dead, 7,636 missing and 78,000 wounded Over 8,000 Australian and 2,700 New Zealand soldiers died.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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    • profile image

      GM 6 years ago

      Please do not mis read this comment or take it the wrong way! I am a military music historian from NZ & work in the area of commemorations & ceremonies.

      Be careful getting info off web sites as much of it is hearsay, misquoted with slight inaccuracies and things taken wrongly - leading to dates quoted not quite right. Many NZ battles were "gazetted" as hoildays etc, not just Gallipoli. Anzac Day in NZ happened by accident. Worldwide, the day war & peace is remembered is the 11th of the 11th which is known througout the world under different names - Britain & NZ refer to it as 'Armistice Day'. It covers ALL battles. Armistice Day was NZ's official memorial day until 1923 - the reason it changed - the ship carrying the plastic Poppies arrived too late in NZ for November 11th 1921, someone wrongly distributed them at the next Anzac ceremony 5 months later & sadly NZ got hooked on Anzac Day as 'Poppy Day'. Internationally 'Poppy Day' is 11th 11th.

      Now don't get this misinterpreted please...

      of the 30,000 Kiwis who have died in wars, "only" 2,700 died at Gallipoli, that is "only" 9% of our war dead. Kiwis have a fixation about Anzac Day & Gallipoli for no real good reason. We were not the major player at Gallipoli & it was really the only time were in with the Aussies, so there is no real connection between NZ & Oz. It was only one of many battles for Kiwis. What I am trying to say is that we all go on about Anzac Day but know nothing or care about more significant battles. Its like "well Anzac Day represents them too" No it does not! Passcendaele was NZ's biggest loss ever, not to mention many other battles. Gallipoil is "only" equal to them all too. Its time we stopped getting hung up or tunnel visioned. You mention all this to Kiwis & they get quite aggressive - I bet some of you are angry reading this! but my war death connections are RAF, therefore like over 90% of Kiwis, we are "disenfranchised" by commemorating OUR war dead on a day of another battle.

      For eaxample Lissie, you quote 2 poems recited at Anzac Day - they were written about France (Ode to the Fallen) & Belgium (In Flanders Fields) - not Turkey. they were both exclusively for Armistice Day.

      All I ask, is that we not regard Gallipoli as our only battle, not think it represent all our war dead, understand it is not the international Remembrance Day and that we do start learning & quoting more significant days to NZ like Passchendaele on Oct 12th, Battle of the Somme (most of our deaths) Sept 15th etc

      I hope that this reads to you as I gently intend it to. I am not against Anzac Day - i have done some amazing research on that including about the 1st Anzac parade, intersting facts not known & going against many myths.

    • profile image

      fornc 7 years ago

      Thanks your hub is great, I also wrote about ANZAC day please let me know if you find it OK

    • profile image

      snowbud 7 years ago

      great website.good pictures and videos everything is cool

    • profile image

      Brumnick 7 years ago

      Thanks for the info Lissie. Its a very important day for all you NZ'ers and Aussies and I was lucky enough to visit your fair lands recently

    • profile image

      samuel welsh 7 years ago

      Our troops were brave lets rember that.

      This day is nationally important.

      work in the afternoon would be fine.

      Its not a punch up like vietnam

    • Wanderlust profile image

      Wanderlust 9 years ago from New York City

      Thank you very much Lis for a very informative hub. Now I know what all these parties in Australian restaurants and pubs in New York on ANZAC day are about !! I am really looking forward to another one this year.......

    • PattiM profile image

      PattiM 9 years ago from Colborne, Ontario

      Well written hub Lizzie. In Canada we commemorate the end of WW1 on November 11th at 11am services are held across the country. It's called Remembrance Day.

      The verse from Binyan's poem has been adopted by the Royal Canadian Legion as our "Act of Remembrance" except instead of 'Lest we forget' we end with a repeat of the last line. Generally the Act of Remembrance is used as part of our opening ceremonies to end the silence, the leader recites the act and the assembled respond with "we will remember them".

      That is why I also use it in the hub I recently published in memory of our latest fallen Canadian in Afghanistan. After 30 years of active Legion involvement, it is second nature for me.

      Anyways, well done.

    • Lissie profile image

      Elisabeth Sowerbutts 10 years ago from New Zealand

      Dinamars I see you've been to Turkey so if you get back head down to the Gaillipoli peninsular - it only about 6 hrs by bus from Istanbul.

      ZsuzsyBee quite frankly I am anti war and although the WW1 soldiers had no idea what they were getting into I am amazed that the next generation happily (to large extend ) went off again - it was different for Europe - they were fighting for their lives - and Austtalians to a lesser extend after Singapore fell, but no one really wants to fight over little old NZ! The poem is beautiful though and can bring a tear to even old cynics like me - its often used at 9pm in RSL clubs too. I wondered if it was used in other countries - it was actually written before the original ANZAC Day.

    • dinamars profile image

      dinamars 10 years ago from France

      now I understand why there's a street named Anzac Parade in Sydney. But I didn't know if they had ever come to Turkey...

    • Zsuzsy Bee profile image

      Zsuzsy Bee 10 years ago from Ontario/Canada

      Lissie! That verse is very beautiful! Thanks for sharing. Articles of this kind should be published everywhere and at all times to commemorate the many fallen heroes worldwide. "Lest we forget"

      Great HUB

      regards Zsuzsy

    • Marisa Wright profile image

      Marisa Wright 10 years ago from Sydney

      Great idea for a Hub, Lissie!

    • MrMarmalade profile image

      MrMarmalade 10 years ago from Sydney

      Great story Lizzie.

      Val's Father was killed in World war 2.

      Thank you

    • Whitney05 profile image

      Whitney 10 years ago from Georgia

      Wow. Very interesting. I've never heard of this holiday. Although, it seems to be an Australian one... ANZAC Cove is beautiful.