Anzac Day, 25 April, is one of Australia’s most important national occasions. It marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War.
ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The soldiers in those forces quickly became known as Anzacs, and the pride they took in that name endures to this day.
Read the article to get more information about Anzac Day.
The first day to be called Anzac Day was 13 October 1915 and occurred in Adelaide as a replacement for the Eight-Hour Day holiday (a forerunner of Labour Day and already a public holiday).
This event was more of a patriotic carnival designed to raise awareness of, and funds for, the war effort than the solemn commemoration it was to become.
Anzac Day as we know it was first observed on 25 April 1916, as people came together to honour those lost at Gallipoli.
In Australia, some state governments organised events to commemorate the occasion—but the Commonwealth, other than naming the day as Anzac Day, did not. By the late 1920s, Anzac Day was a public holiday in every state and territory. In the 1930s, there was rhetoric about the need to pass the ‘Anzac spirit’ down to the next generation.
This was partly politically motivated, as there was a feeling that people needed steeling for another war. In the Second World War, the ‘sons of the Anzacs’ were welcomed, and the day now honoured veterans of all wars.
But despite greater numbers of veterans, by the 1960s its popularity had waned, and many wondered if Anzac Day would survive. The resurgence started in the 1980s and 1990s.
The RSL had been slow to welcome ‘others’—notably those who did not serve overseas, including most ex-servicewomen, and veterans of the ‘small’ wars. With a younger leadership, it has relaxed the rules to be more inclusive. Governments have reinforced the day’s significance with commemorative programs that reach out to the community.
The Australian War Memorial’s (AWM) Anzac Day electronic encyclopaedia entry contains links to material on the history and tradition of Anzac Day, details and photographs of ceremonies, sound recordings of the Last Post and the Rouse, and educational resources.
The Dawn Service
The first commemorative event of Anzac Day is the Dawn Service at 4.30 am. This is about the time men of the ANZAC approached the Gallipoli beach.
However, the origin is the traditional ‘stand-to’, in which troops would be woken so that by the first rays of dawn they were in position and alert, in case of an enemy attack in the eerie half-light. It is a ritual and a moment remembered by many veterans.
Some debate exists about the first Dawn Service. Nevertheless, early dawn services such as that held in 1923 at Albany, Western Australia, conducted by the Reverend Arthur White—Rector of St John’s Church, and formerly a padre with the 44th Battalion on the Western Front—were the forerunners of the modern tradition.
The first official Dawn Service was held at Sydney’s Cenotaph during 1928. The simple ceremony was for veterans to assemble before dawn for ‘stand-to’ and two minutes of silence.
Anzac Day March
From cities to small towns, the march has long been the centrepiece of Anzac Day. Marches were held during the Great War, and became popular with veterans in the 1920s, to honour lost friends and publicly express comradeship. The RSL organises the marches.
While it was traditional for veterans who saw active service, it was later relaxed to include those who served in Australia in the armed services or ‘land armies’ during the Second World War.
It has been relaxed further, with some encouragement or acceptance of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren marching, to assist aged veterans or to represent relatives. Former soldiers from allied armies have also been allowed to march.
Only the person awarded or issued medals may claim those medals as his or her own. He or she wears the medals on their left breast. Others (those who did not earn the medals) may honour the service of a relative by wearing medals on the right breast.
Some veterans may be seen wearing medals on both breasts—their own on the left, and a relative’s on the right. Unit citations are worn according to individual service instructions but are usually worn on the right. An ANZAC Commemorative Medallion and Badge was issued in 1967 to surviving Gallipoli veterans.
Rosemary is an emblem of remembrance. It is traditional on Anzac Day to wear a sprig of rosemary pinned to a coat lapel or to the breast (it does not matter which side, but the left seems most common), or held in place by medals. Rosemary has particular significance for Australians on Anzac Day as it grows wild on the Gallipoli Peninsula.