The use of the word Anzac is restricted and protected by
history of Anzac Day
The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) landing at
Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 gave us the date and name of Anzac Day. News of the
landing saw outpourings of national pride, and it became clear that its
anniversary was the appropriate day for commemoration.
Anzac Day 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
did not. Acting Prime Minister (and Minister for Defence) Senator George
Pearce viewed Gallipoli as a failure, and believed that a later battle might
prove ‘more worthy of remembering’. He clearly misjudged the importance to the
people of this day.
The wartime Anzac Days were especially important for the
bereaved. With so many killed, the pain was palpable. Anzac Day was a moment to
recognise and acknowledge the sacrifice with services and simple acts of
remembrance, such as women tying ribbons onto the gates of wharves where they
last saw their sons, brothers or husbands alive.
Anzac Day was a fixture by the war’s end. Politicians (some
of whom had served, or lost loved ones and friends) forged bonds with the
Returned Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Imperial League of Australia (now the Returned
and Services League of Australia (RSL)), which assumed responsibility for the
day. Rituals such as dawn services and street marches were developed, and
gradually the families of the dead became quite marginalised. While all people
were encouraged to remember, the day was in many ways for ex-servicemen to
honour their dead. In Melbourne during the late 1920s, women, including mothers
of those killed, were banned from the dawn service because of their wailing.
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
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. Anzac Day has evolved into a day for Australians to
honour their war dead and veterans, and show support for serving members of the
Australian Defence Force.
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 Department of Veterans’ Affairs website
includes information on the origin of Anzac Day, silence, poppies, unknown
soldiers, national and state ceremonies and audio versions of the Last Post,
Rouse and the National Anthem.
Further information on poppies
is also available, as is the New Zealand
perspective on Anzac Day.
Anzac Day or ANZAC Day?
The Anzac acronym
comes from the initial letters of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps,
into which Australian and New Zealand troops were formed in Egypt before the
landings at Gallipoli in April 1915. What was once commonly ‘Anzac Day’ is
nowadays often referred to as ‘ANZAC Day’ (in homage to the Australian and New
Zealand Army Corps). Which is the more correct?
The official historian, Charles Bean, who knew more about
Australians in the Great War than anybody, wrote of a day in early 1915 when a
staff officer arrived at HQ seeking a code name for the Australian and New
Zealand Army Corps. Having noticed ‘A&NZAC’ stencilled on cases and also
rubber stamps bearing this mark, a clerk suggested:
‘How about ANZAC?’ Major Wagstaff proposed the word to the
general, who approved of it, and ‘Anzac’ thereupon became the code name for the
Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. (CEW Bean, The
Story of ANZAC from the outbreak of war to the end of the first phase of the
Gallipoli Campaign, May 4, 1915 (11th
edition, 1941) (Volume 1 of The Official
History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918, pp.124–25.)
As a proper noun, as well as an acronym, ‘Anzac’ entered the
vernacular of the Diggers and Kiwis. At Gallipoli, they called their position,
simply, Anzac; and the famous cove, Anzac Cove. They started referring to each
other as Anzacs too. Eventually, any Australian or New Zealander who served in
the war could be called an Anzac—although to them a true Anzac was a man who
served at Gallipoli (later issued a brass ‘A’ to stitch onto their unit colour
On 25 April 1916, when people paused to observe the first
anniversary of the landing and pay solemn tribute to those who had died at
Gallipoli, by common accord it was Anzac Day, in honour of the men (not ANZAC
Day, in reference to the corps.) The NZ Returned Soldiers’ Association, for
example, had an ‘Anzac day sub-committee’; the King sent a message to be
published ‘on Anzac Day’; and songs and poems honoured ‘Our Anzac Boys’. As
many more died on the Western Front, the day evolved to honour all Australians
and New Zealanders in the war (that is, not just those of the ANZAC, which
actually ceased to exist after Gallipoli). These days Anzac Day encompasses all
conflicts Australians and New Zealanders have fought in.
and rituals of Anzac Day
While there were no specific traditions and rituals to begin
with, by the late 1920s, most of those that we now associate with Anzac Day had
developed in one form or another. The manner in which Australians and New
Zealanders observe this day has continued to evolve, and will continue to do so
as the veteran and wider communities change further.
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. Nowadays, all are welcome, and the dawn service has grown in
popularity and in meaning for the community.
The story of the dawn service and its origins is found in
the article ‘In
honour of Anzac Day: Grave History of Dawn Service‘ (Air Force News, vol. 44, no. 7, 25 April
Kerry Neale, ‘In
the cold light of dawn‘, discusses the significance of the dawn service
continuing to grow while questions remain over its origin in Australia (Wartime,
no. 38, 2007, pp. 38–39).
History of the ‘gunfire
breakfast’, held after the dawn service on Anzac Day
Many communities follow the dawn service with a ‘traditional’
‘Gun Fire’ is a British tradition and was:
... the usual term for the early cup of tea served out to
troops in the morning before going on first parade, whenever possible. In the
War [WWI] recruits in training always had ‘Gun Fire’ supplied to them, the work
before breakfast being found particularly trying. The morning gun in a garrison
town suggested the name probably. (From Edward Fraser and John Gibbons, Soldier and Sailor Words and Phrases including slang
of the trenches and the air force; British and American war-words and service
terms and expressions in everyday use; nicknames, sobriquets, and titles of
regiments, with their origin; the battle-honours of the Great War awarded to
the British Army, Routledge, London, 1925, p. 113.)
The ‘gunfire breakfast’ seems to have evolved from the
above, and comprises whatever is available at the time—it could be ‘coffee and
rum’ or ‘stew, sausage and bread’, or even ‘bacon and eggs’ (which is served by
the War Memorial for their ‘gunfire breakfast’ on Anzac Day).
Parliamentary Committee investigating licensing laws in that state in 2002,
made the following comments, indicating that alcohol is served at the
The existing liquor licensing regime for ANZAC Day is, in
effect, one that observes the sanctity of ANZAC Day morning, but provides for
discretionary exceptions. The Committee received evidence that there are
special circumstances where morning liquor trading is reasonable. In
particular, there are instances where liquor trading is complementary to the
conduct of an ANZAC morning ceremony. A particular instance of this is the
holding of a gunfire breakfast (Victoria, Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations
Committee, Parliamentary Review of ANZAC Day Laws, October 2002).
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 those no longer with us.
Figure 1: Women’s complement,
Anzac Day march, Melbourne, 25 April 1919. Image courtesy of the Australian
Follow-on and Two-up
The march may be followed by reunions and lunches put on by
local establishments. This is also the one day that the traditional Australian
gambling game of ‘two-up’, or ‘swy’, may be legally played at venues. Bets are
placed on how two pennies thrown into the air will fall. The ‘Ringer’ (in
charge) will explain rules and betting procedures. Any persons of legal
gambling age are welcome to participate. The entry on ‘Two-up’
from the Australian Encyclopaedia
describes the ‘game’ and its origins.
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.
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 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.
Laying a wreath or flowers
A wreath or a small bunch of flowers is traditionally laid
on memorials or graves in memory of the dead. They might contain laurel, a
traditional symbol of honour, and rosemary, or they may be native or other
flowers. In recent years, it has also become popular to lay a wreath of red poppies—formerly
associated with Remembrance Day, 11 November. Any of these wreaths or flowers
are acceptable as a gesture of remembrance.
The Ode comes from the fourth stanza of the poem ‘For the Fallen’
by the English poet and writer, Laurence Binyon. It was published in London in The
Winnowing Fan: Poems of the Great War in 1914. It was used in association
with commemorative services in Australia by 1921.
They shall grow not old,
as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years
At the going down of the sun and in the
We will remember them.
At the Anzac Day ceremony, an invited speaker often recites The Ode and
upon his or her completion of the recitation, those present repeat the last
words ‘We will remember them’. After a short pause this is followed by ‘Lest we
The Last Post
This is one of a number of bugle calls in the military
tradition to mark phases of the day. Traditionally, it marked the ending of a
day. The Last Post was incorporated into funeral and memorial services as a
final farewell, and symbolises that the duty of the dead is over and that they
can rest in peace. On Anzac Day, it is followed by one or two minutes of
silence, then a second bugle call, Reveille (also known as The Rouse).
The story of the Anzac
bugle calls is told in Valley Voice,
19 April 2002.
The Anzac Biscuit
The original Anzac Biscuit,
also known as the Anzac wafer or tile, was a hardtack biscuit or long
shelf-life biscuit substitute for bread. These were not necessarily popular
with soldiers at Gallipoli, but there are now recipes for more
edible domestic versions.
The meaning of Anzac
The entries in the Oxford Companion to Australian
Military History on Anzac
Day and the Anzac
legend provide good summaries of the importance of the day and of the
‘Anzac’ and the making of the Anzac Legend’, the author, David Kent, argues
that the image of the Anzac was the careful creation of the official historian,
CEW Bean who, as editor of the enormously popular 1916 publication, The
Anzac Book, acted as a prism through which Australians were presented with
an oversimplified view of the realities of war and its effect on men.
possession for ever: Charles Bean, the ancient Greeks, and military
commemoration in Australia’ Peter Londey argues that the Australian
official war historian drew parallels between the deeds of the Australian
Imperial Force and ancient Greece in the 5th century BC (Australian Journal
of Politics and History, vol. 53, no. 3, September 2007, pp. 344–349).
Bean’s last paragraph‘, Martin Ball discusses the last paragraph of CEW
Bean’s official history which has ‘long been appreciated as a concise yet
effective statement about Australia’s response to its war experience’. Although
the volume which contains it was published in 1942, the last paragraph was
actually the first to be written in 1919 (Australian Historical Studies,
no. 122, October 2003, pp. 231–247). Bean’s last paragraph reads:
What these men did nothing can alter now. The good and the
bad, the greatness and smallness of their story will stand. Whatever of glory
it contains nothing now can lessen. It rises, as it will always rise, above the
mists of ages, a monument to great-hearted men; and, for their nation, a
possession for ever (CEW Bean, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918,
vol. VI, chapter XXII, Sydney, Angus & Robertson,
1942, p. 1096).
In his 1988 article, ‘Anzac
and the Australian military tradition’, historian, Professor Ken Inglis,
describes the essential meaning of the word Anzac, its early use, the Anzac
tradition in schools between the wars, the relationship between the Anzac
concept and social class and between the Anzac tradition and feminism, the
continuity of the tradition from the Second World War through to the Vietnam
conflict, and the observations of writers, scholars, artists and film makers (Current
Affairs Bulletin, vol. 64, no. 11, April, 1988).
the sacred in the secular’, Graham Seal argues that the resurgence of
interest in Anzac Day has ‘only served to emphasise the strongly secular nature
of Anzac and its centrality to widespread notions of Australian nationalism’ (Journal
of Australian Studies, vol. 91, 2007).
a symposium on the meanings of Anzac’, to mark the 75th anniversary of the
landings at Gallipoli, ten Australians discuss various aspects of the meaning
of Anzac to indigenous Australians and Vietnam diggers, the place of Anzac in
Australian society and the future of Anzac (Journal of the Australian War
Memorial, no. 16, April 1990).
influence on Turkey and Australia’ was the keynote address given to the
1990 War Memorial History Conference by Bill Gammage. In it he explored the
different ways in which Turks and Australians remember Canakkale (Gallipoli),
and how they regard each other as a result of the campaign (Journal of the
Australian War Memorial, no. 18, April 1991).
we forget the cult of the digger’ Nick Horden discusses how the memory of
past wars continues to shape the Australian nation (Australian Financial
Review, 20 January 2000).
is Anzac Day? It is the embodiment of the national ethos‘, retraces the
history of 25 April and the traditions of Anzac (Stand To, April-May 2002, pp. 4–5).
we will never forget’. Graham Cooke talks about how, even after four generations
since Gallipoli, the Anzac spirit is still alive (Canberra Times Magazine, April 2003).
shall not grow old’, Ken Inglis discusses how the Anzac legend grows rather
than recedes (Age, 30 April
mystique of Gallipoli’, Les Carlyon explains what makes Gallipoli so
important to Australians (Canberra Times,
13 November 2004).
should respect realities‘ by Craig Barrett and Martin Crotty: Argues that
it is possible to balance a questioning approach towards the Anzac tradition
with respect for the men who fought at Gallipoli (Australian, 1 February 2006).
Anzac myth: patriot act‘, Mark McKenna argues that ‘since the early 1990s
Australians have lost the ability (or inclination) to debate Anzac Day’ (Australian
Literary Review, June 2007).
of the Anzac dawn ceremony: spontaneity and nationhood Robyn Mayes looks at
three possible origins of the dawn service and discusses the sociological
context of these.
Series on ‘Our Anzac heroes’ published in the Daily
Telegraph in 2004:
hearts when the Light Horse disbanded‘, 20 April 2004
living hell of a war that took so many lives‘, 21 April 2004
greats who fought bigger battles‘, 22 April 2004
machines that brought destruction‘, 22 April 2004
soldiers well fed was half the battle‘, 23 April 2004
In their 2010 book What’s
wrong with Anzac?: the militarisation of Australian history, Henry Reynolds and Marilyn Lake
criticise what they describe as ‘the relentless militarisation’ of Australian
history and argue that it is no longer appropriate to have a military event
playing such an important role in defining the Australian identity (H Reynolds
and M Lake, eds, What’s wrong with Anzac?: the militarisation of Australian
history, Sydney, University
of New South Wales Press, 2010).
In a review of What’s wrong with Anzac, Geoffrey
Blainey rejects many of the arguments made by the authors, and states that the
popularity of Anzac Day has fluctuated, and in all probability will continue to
do so (We
weren’t that dumb, Australian, 7
James Brown’s 2014 book Anzac’s
long shadow: the cost of our national obsession argues
that, although important, commemorating those Australians who served and lost
their lives during war should not take resources away from currently serving
personnel. Brown summarised his views in an article
for The Age.
The debate about the use of the history of Anzac and what
kind of commemorative activities are appropriate has gained pace since the
publication of What’s wrong with Anzac and there are perhaps more
dissenting voices now than has been the case in the past. The website Honest History contains a section
Analysed which attempts to promote some of these voices.
minefield of Australian military history’
(Australian Journal of Politics and History, vol. 60, no. 4, 2014,
Martin Crotty and Craig Stockings discuss the sometimes difficult relationship
between academics and popular history.
A selection of four First World War poems by Leon
Gellert: Anzac Cove (written in January 1916) and three poems about
life and death in the trenches, from Volume 1 of Poetry in Australia.
The text of two
famous First World War poems, In Flanders Fields and For the Fallen
is here :
- In Flanders Fields was written in 1915 by the Canadian
physician and professor of medicine, John McRae, who fought on the Western
Front in 1914 but was then transferred to the medical corps and assigned to a
hospital in France. He died on active duty in 1918.
- For the Fallen was written in 1914 by Laurence Binyon who
worked at the British Museum. The fourth verse of For the Fallen is now
more commonly known as ‘The Ode’. It was selected to accompany the unveiling of
the London Cenotaph in 1919 and by 1921 was already in use in Australia as an
ode read on Anzac Day. It has been used at commemorative services on Anzac Day
also served—and wrote‘, Steve Meacham discusses a compilation of Anzac
poetry, commenting particularly about Banjo Paterson and his association with
the First World War (Sydney Morning Herald,
25 April 2002).
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