Saturday 25th April 2015 was the 100th Anniversary of ANZAC Day
Anzac Day is a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand that broadly commemorates all Australians and New Zealanders “who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations” and “the contribution and suffering of all those who have served.” Observed on the 25th of April each year, Anzac Day was originally to honour the members of the Austrailian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who fought at Gallipoli against the Ottoman Empire during WWI.
Anzac Day is also observed in the Cook Islands, Niue, Pitcairn Islands, and Tonga, and previously also as a national holiday in Papua New Guinea and Samoa. It is unofficially recognized and observed in Newfoundland, as they were an independent dominion and the Royal Newfoundland Regiment was the only North American unit to fight at Gallipoli.
Anzac Day marks the anniversary of the first campaign that led to major casualties for Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War. The acronym ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, whose soldiers were known as Anzacs.
Anzac Day remains one of the most important national occasions of both Australia and New Zealand, a rare instance of two sovereign countries not only sharing the same Remembrance Day, but making reference to both countries in its name. When war broke out in 1914, Australia and New Zealand had been dominions of the British Empire for thirteen and seven years respectively.
In 1915, Australian and New Zealand soldiers formed part of an Allied expedition that set out to capture the Gallipoli Peninsula to open the way to the Black Sea for the Allied navies. The objective was to capture Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire, which was an ally of Germany during the war. The ANZAC force landed at Gallipoli on the 25th of April, meeting fierce resistance from the Ottoman Army commanded by Mustafa Kemal (later known as Atatürk). What had been planned as a bold strike to knock the Ottomans out of the war quickly became a stalemate, and the campaign dragged on for eight months.
At the end of 1915, the Allied forces were evacuated after both sides had suffered heavy casualties and endured great hardships. The Allied casualties included 21,255 from the United Kingdom, an estimated 10,000 dead soldiers from France, 8,709 from Australia, 2,721 from New Zealand, and 1,358 from British India. News of the landing at Gallipoli made a profound impact on Australians and New Zealanders at home and the 25th of April quickly became the day on which they remembered the sacrifice of those who had died in the war.
Though the Gallipoli campaign failed to achieve its military objectives of capturing Constantinople and knocking the Ottoman Empire out of the war, the actions of the Australian and New Zealand troops during the campaign bequeathed an intangible but powerful legacy. The creation of what became known as an “Anzac legend” became an important part of the national identity in both countries. This has shaped the way their citizens have viewed both their past and their understanding of the present.
On the 30th April 1915, when the first news of the landing reached New Zealand, a half-day holiday was declared and impromptu services were held.
In South Australia, Australia’s first built memorial to those killed in the Dardanelles was unveiled by the South Australian Governor on “Wattle Day”, on the 7th of September 1915, just over four months after the first landings. The monument was originally in an area called “Wattle Grove” on Sir Lewis Cohen Avenue in the South Parklands but was later moved to a lawned area off South Terrace near the junction with Anzac Highway. Remnant seedlings of the original wattles still grow in “Wattle Grove”. Also in South Australia,Eight Hour Day, 13th of October 1915 was renamed “Anzac Day” and a carnival was organised to raise money for the Wounded Soldiers Fund.
The date of the 25th of April was officially named Anzac Day in 1916; in that year it was marked by a wide variety of ceremonies and services in Australia and New Zealand, including a commemorative march through London involving Australian and New Zealand troops. In New Zealand it was gazetted as a half-day holiday. Australian Great War battalion and brigade war diaries show that on this first anniversary, units including those on the front line, made efforts to solemnise the memory of those who were killed this day twelve months previously. A common format found in the war diaries by Australian and New Zealand soldiers for the day commenced with a dawn requiem mass, followed mid-morning with a commemorative service, and after lunch organised sports activities with the proceeds of any gambling going to Battalion funds. This occurred in Egypt as well.
In London, over 2,000 Australian and New Zealand troops marched through the streets of the city. A London newspaper headline dubbed them “The Knights of Gallipoli”. Marches were held all over Australia in 1916; wounded soldiers from Gallipoli attended the Sydney march in convoys of cars, accompanied by nurses. Over 2,000 people attended the service in Rotorua. For the remaining years of the war, Anzac Day was used as an occasion for patriotic rallies and recruiting campaigns, and marches of serving members of the AIF were held in most cities. From 1916 onwards, in both Australia and New Zealand, Anzac memorials were held on or about the 25th of April, mainly organised by returned servicemen and school children in cooperation with local authorities.
Anzac Day was gazetted as a public holiday in New Zealand in 1920, through the Anzac Day Act, after lobbying by the New Zealand Returned Soldiers’ Association, the RSA. In Australia at the 1921 State Premiers’ Conference, it was decided that Anzac Day would be observed on the 25th of April each year. However, it was not observed uniformly in all the states.
During the 1920s, Anzac Day became established as a National Day of Commemoration for the 60,000 Australians and 18,000 New Zealanders who died during the war. The first year in which all the Australian states observed some form of public holiday together on Anzac Day was 1927. By the mid-1930s, all the rituals now associated with the day—dawn vigils, marches, memorial services, reunions, sly two-up games—became part of Australian Anzac Day culture. New Zealand commemorations also adopted many of these rituals, with the dawn service being introduced from Australia in 1939.
Anzac Day since the Second World War
With the coming of the Second World War, Anzac Day became a day on which to commemorate the lives of Australians and New Zealanders lost in that war as well and in subsequent years. The meaning of the day has been further broadened to include those killed in all the military operations in which the countries have been involved.
Anzac Day was first commemorated at the Australian War Memorial in 1942, but, due to government orders preventing large public gatherings in case of Japanese air attack, it was a small affair and was neither a march nor a memorial service. Anzac Day has been annually commemorated at the Australian War Memorial ever since
In New Zealand, Anzac Day saw a surge in popularity immediately after World War II. However this was short-lived, and by the 1950s many New Zealanders had become antagonistic or indifferent towards the day. Much of this was linked to the legal ban on commerce on Anzac Day, and the banning by many local authorities of sports events and other entertainment on the day. Annoyance was particularly pronounced in 1953 and 1959, when Anzac Day fell on a Saturday. There was widespread public debate on the issue, with some people calling for the public holiday to be moved to the nearest Sunday or abolished altogether. In 1966 a new Anzac Day Act was passed, allowing sport and entertainment in the afternoon.
From the 1960s, but especially in the 1970s and 1980s, Anzac Day became increasingly controversial in both Australia and New Zealand. Protests against the Vietnam War were common Anzac Day occurrences during the 1960s and 1970s. In 1967, two members of the left-wing Progressive Youth Movement in Christchurch staged a minor protest at the Anzac Day ceremony, laying a wreath protesting against the Vietnam War. They were subsequently convicted of disorderly conduct. In 1978, a women’s group laid a wreath dedicated to all the women raped and killed during war, and movements for feminism, gay rights, and peace used the occasion to draw attention to their respective causes at various times during the 1980s. In the 1980s, Australian feminists used the annual Anzac Day march to protest against rape and violence in war and were banned from marching.
From about the late 1980s, however, there was an international resurgence of interest in World War I and its commemorations. Anzac Day attendances rose in Australia and New Zealand, with young people taking a particular interest. Protests and controversy became much rarer.
Until 1981 Papua New Guinea commemorated its war dead on Anzac Day; however, since then Remembrance Day has been observed on the 23rd of July, the date of the first action of the Papuan Infantry Battalion against the Japanese at Awala in 1942 during the Kokoda Track campaign.
Following Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War, interest in Anzac Day reached its lowest point. On the 26th of April 1975, The Australian newspaper covered the passing of Anzac Day in a single story. However, in recent years Anzac Day has drawn record crowds, with an increasing number of those attending being young Australians, many of whom attend ceremonies swathed in Australian flags, wearing green and gold T-shirts and beanies and with Australian flag tattoos imprinted on their skin. This phenomenon has been perceived by some as a reflection of the desire of younger generations of Australians to honour the sacrifices made by the previous generations.
Australians and New Zealanders recognise the 25th of April as a ceremonial occasion to reflect on the cost of war and to remember those who fought and lost their lives for their country. Commemorative services and marches are held at dawn, the time of the original landing, mainly at war memorials in cities and towns across both nations and the sites of some of Australia and New Zealand’s more-recognised battles and greatest losses, such as Villers-Bretonneux in France and Gallipoli in Turkey.
One of the traditions of Anzac Day is the ‘gunfire breakfast’ (coffee with rum added) which occurs shortly after many dawn ceremonies, and recalls the ‘breakfast’ taken by many soldiers before facing battle. Later in the day, ex-servicemen and ex-servicewomen meet and join in marches through the major cities and many smaller centres.
After the First World War, returned soldiers sought the comradeship they felt in those quiet, peaceful moments before dawn. With symbolic links to the dawn landing at Gallipoli, a dawn stand-to or dawn ceremony became a common form of Anzac Day remembrance during the 1920s.
The first official dawn service was held at the Sydney Cenotaph in 1927. Dawn services were originally very simple and followed the operational ritual; in many cases they were restricted to veterans only. The daytime ceremony was for families and other well-wishers and the dawn service was for returned soldiers to remember and reflect among the comrades with whom they shared a special bond.
Before dawn the gathered veterans would be ordered to “stand-to” and two minutes of silence would follow. At the start of this time a lone bugler would play the Last Post and then concluded the service with Reveille. In more recent times the families and young people have been encouraged to take part in dawn services, and services in Australian capital cities have seen some of the largest turnouts ever. Reflecting this change, the ceremonies have become more elaborate, incorporating hymns, readings, pipers and rifle volleys. Others, though, have retained the simple format of the dawn stand-to, familiar to so many soldiers.
Typical modern dawn services follow a pattern that is now familiar to generations of Australians, containing the following features: introduction, hymn, prayer, an address, laying of wreaths, recitation, the playing of the Last Post, a minute of silence, Reveille, and the playing of both the New Zealand and Australian national anthems. At the Australian War Memorial, following events such as the Anzac Day and Remembrance Day services, families often place artificial red poppies beside the names of relatives on the Memorial’s Roll of Honour. In Australia, sprigs of rosemary are often worn on lapels and in New Zealand poppies have taken on this role.
In Australia and New Zealand, Anzac Day commemoration features solemn “Dawn Services” or “Dawn Marches”, a tradition started in Albany, Western Australia on the 25th of April 1923 and now held at War memorials around both countries, accompanied by thoughts of those lost at war to the ceremonial sounds of the Last Post on the bugle stanza of Laurence Binyon`s poem For the Fallen (known as the “Ode of Remembrance”, or simply as “the Ode”) is often recited.
Anzac Day is a national public holiday and is considered by many Australians to be one of the most solemn days of the year. Marches by veterans from all past wars, as well as current serving members of the Australian Defence Force and Reserves, with allied veterans as well as the Australian Defence Force Cadets and Australian Air League and supported by members of Scouts Australia, Guides Australia, and other uniformed service groups, are held in cities and towns nationwide. The Anzac Day March from each state capital is televised live with commentary.
These events are generally followed by social gatherings of veterans, hosted either in a public house or in an RSL club, often including a traditional Australian gambling game called two-up, which was an extremely popular pastime with ANZAC soldiers. In most Australian states and territories, gambling is forbidden outside of licensed venues. However, due to the significance of this tradition, two-up is legal only on Anzac Day.
Despite federation being proclaimed in Australia in 1901, it is argued that the “national identity” of Australia was largely forged during the violent conflict of World War I, and the most iconic event in the war for most Australians was the landing at Gallipoli. Dr. Paul Skrebels of the University of South Australia has noted that Anzac Day has continued to grow in popularity; even the threat of a terrorist attack at the Gallipoli site in 2004 did not deter some 15,000 Australians from making the pilgrimage to Turkey to commemorate the fallen ANZAC troops.
Although commemoration events are always held on the 25th of April, most states and territories currently observe a substitute public holiday on the following Monday when Anzac Day falls on a Sunday. When Anzac Day falls on Easter Monday, such as in 2011, the Easter Monday holiday is transferred to Tuesday. This followed a 2008 meeting of the Council for the Australian Federation in which the states and territories made an in principle agreement to work towards making this a universal practice. However in 2009, the Legislative Council of Tasmania rejected a bill amendment that would have enabled the substitute holiday in that state.
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