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Foreign Affairs Defence and Security
This quick guide is an update of the Parliamentary Library’s
2017 quick guide on the same subject, with minor amendments to the text.
History of Anzac
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.
War Memorial’s (AWM) website 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.
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,
44(7), 25 April 2002).
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, 38, 2007, pp.
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.
Many communities follow the dawn service with a
‘traditional’ gunfire breakfast. ‘Gunfire’ 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.
(E Fraser and J Gibbons, Soldier & Sailor Words &
Phrases, 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).
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.
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. Unit
citations are worn according to individual service instructions but are usually
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 condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
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 end of the
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.
Anzac Day speeches
15 April 2016—address at Anzac Day National Ceremony,
Australian War Memorial, Canberra, by the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull.
25 April 2015—Anzac Day National Ceremony—commemorative address, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, by the Governor-General,
Sir Peter Cosgrove.
25 April 2015—speech at the Dawn Service, Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, by the
Prime Minister, Tony Abbott.
25 April 2005—address
at the Dawn Service, Gallipoli, by the Prime Minister, John Howard.
25 April 2005—address
delivered by the Anglican Bishop to the Defence Force, Dawn Service, Australian
War Memorial, Canberra.
11 November 1993—transcript of the speech made by the Prime
Minister, Paul Keating, at the tomb of the unknown soldier on the occasion of
of the Unknown Australian Soldier, Remembrance Day.
The meaning of Anzac
The history of the commemoration of Anzac and debate over
its meaning has been discussed at length over many years.
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
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 (AIF) and ancient Greece in the 5th century BC (Australian
Journal of Politics and History, 53(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,
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 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, 64(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, 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, 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, 18, April 1991).
unknown Australian soldier’, Ashley Ekins discusses the symbolic
significance of the return of the remains of an unknown Australian soldier (Wartime,
25, January 2004, pp. 11–13).
we forget the cult of the digger’, Nick Horden discusses how the memory of
past wars continues to shape the Australian nation (The 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 (The Age, 30 April 2004).
mystique of Gallipoli’, Les Carlyon explains what makes Gallipoli so
important to Australians (The Canberra Times, 13 November 2004).
should respect realities’, authors Craig Barrett and Martin Crotty argue
that it is possible to balance a questioning approach towards the Anzac
tradition with respect for the men who fought at Gallipoli (The 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).
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, University of New
South Wales Press, Sydney, 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’, The Australian, 7 April 2010).
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 entitled Anzac
Analysed which attempts to promote some of these voices.
minefield of Australian military history’, Martin Crotty and
Craig Stockings discuss the sometimes difficult relationship between academics
and popular history (Australian Journal of Politics and History, 60(4),
commemoration in Australia: a memory orgy?’ (Australian
Journal of Political Science, September 2015, pp. 536–544).
Day Then and Now (edited by Tom Frame, UNSW Press, 2016) contains a
variety of essays which reflect on the history and meaning of Anzac Day. In his
introduction to the book Frame discusses something of the tension that exists
between differing viewpoints about Anzac Day in contemporary Australia.
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 .
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 (The Sydney Morning Herald, 25 April
Is it 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. The official historian, Charles Bean,
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
‘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 (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 with a brass ‘A’ to stitch onto their unit
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