Anzac Day

Anzac Day

Anzac Day Dawn Service at Kings Park, Western Australia, 25 April 2009, 94th anniversary
Observed by Australia
New Zealand
Type Commemorative, patriotic, historic
Significance National day of remembrance and first landing of the Anzacs at Gallipoli
Observances Dawn services, commemorative marches, remembrance services
Date 25 April
Next time 25 April 2017 (2017-04-25)
Frequency Annual
Related to Remembrance Day (Commonwealth of Nations),
Armistice Day, Veterans Day, Memorial Day

Anzac Day /ˈænzæk/ 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".[1][2] Observed on 25 April each year, Anzac Day was originally to honour the members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who fought at Gallipoli against the Ottoman Empire during World War I.

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.[3][4]


An Australian veteran on Anzac Day.

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,[5] 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.

Gallipoli campaign

Main article: Gallipoli Campaign

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 25 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, of which were some 4000 Irish soldiers from the Royal Irish Fusiliers, 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 25 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.

Foundations of Anzac Day

Anzac Day at Manly, Queensland, 1922

On 30 April 1915, when the first news of the landing reached New Zealand, a half-day holiday was declared and impromptu services were held.[6]

In South Australia, Australia's first built memorial to those killed in the Dardanelles was unveiled by the South Australian Governor on "Wattle Day", 7 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".[7] Also in South Australia, Eight Hour Day, 13 October 1915, was renamed "Anzac Day" and a carnival was organised to raise money for the Wounded Soldiers Fund.[8]

The date 25 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.[6] 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 Queensland on 10 January 1916, Canon David John Garland was appointed the honorary secretary of the Anzac Day Commemoration Committee of Queensland (ADCCQ) at a public meeting which endorsed 25 April as be the date promoted as “Anzac Day” in 1916 and ever after. Devoted to the cause of a non-denominational commemoration that could be attended by the whole of Australian society, Garland worked amicably across all denominational divides, creating the framework for Anzac Day commemorative services.[9] Garland is specifically credited with initiating the Anzac Day march, the wreath-laying ceremonies at memorials and the special church services, the two minutes silence, and the luncheon for returned soldiers.[10] Garland intended the silence was used in lieu of a prayer to allow the Anzac Day service to be universally attended, allowing attendees to make a silent prayer or remembrance in accordance with their own beliefs. He particularly feared that the universality of the ceremony would fall victim to religious sectarian disputes.[11]

In London, over 2,000 Australian and New Zealand troops marched through the streets of the city.[12] 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.[6] 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 25 April, mainly organised by returned servicemen and school children in cooperation with local authorities.

Flags on the cenotaph in Wellington for the 2007 Dawn March. From left to right, the flags of New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Australia

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,[13] the RSA.[14] In Australia at the 1921 State Premiers' Conference, it was decided that Anzac Day would be observed on 25 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.[14]

Anzac Day since World War II

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.[5]

A large commemoration march in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales (April 2008)

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.[15]

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.[16][17] 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.[18] In the 1980s, Australian feminists used the annual Anzac Day march to protest against rape and violence in war and were banned from marching.[19][20]

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 23 July, the date of the first action of the Papuan Infantry Battalion against the Japanese at Awala in 1942 during the Kokoda Track campaign.[21]


Royal Victoria Regiment marching through Melbourne on ANZAC Day 2008
Anzac Day at Darwin, 25 April 2013

Following Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War, interest in Anzac Day reached its lowest point. On 26 April 1975, The Australian newspaper covered the passing of Anzac Day in a single story.[22] However, in recent years Anzac Day has drawn record crowds,[23] with an increasing number of those attending being young Australians,[24][25] 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.[26][27][28][29] 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.[30]

Hobart Cenotaph, Tasmania, Australia – with wreaths for ANZAC Day

Australians and New Zealanders recognise 25 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[31] and Gallipoli in Turkey.[32]

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.

Dawn service

Poppies, a symbol of remembrance
The wreath laying at the 2008 dawn service at the Australian War Memorial at Hyde Park Corner, London.

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.

Australian War Memorial Anzac Day dawn service, 25 April 2013. The crowd of around 35,000 people is addressed by Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith VC MG who is reading stories and anecdotes from Australian service men and women relating to the war in Afghanistan.

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[33] and in New Zealand poppies have taken on this role.[34]


The Last Post is played at an Anzac Day ceremony in Port Melbourne, Victoria, 25 April 2005. Ceremonies like this are held in virtually every suburb and town in Australia and New Zealand on Anzac Day each year.

In Australia and New Zealand, Anzac Day commemoration features solemn "Dawn Services" or "Dawn Marches", a tradition started in Albany, Western Australia on 25 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. The fourth 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,[26][35] 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;[36] even the threat of a terrorist attack at the Gallipoli site in 2004[37] did not deter some 15,000 Australians from making the pilgrimage to Turkey to commemorate the fallen ANZAC troops.[38]

Although commemoration events are always held on 25 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.[39] 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.[40] However, in 2009, the Legislative Council of Tasmania rejected a bill amendment that would have enabled the substitute holiday in that state.[41]

Australian postage stamps

Australia Post has issued stamps over the years to commemorate Anzac Day, the first being in 1935 for the 20th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings.

The full list of issued stamps is as follows:

Australian football

Main article: Anzac Day clash

During many wars, Australian rules football matches have been played overseas in places like northern Africa, Vietnam, and Iraq as a celebration of Australian culture and as a bonding exercise between soldiers.[42][43][44]

The modern-day tradition began in 1995 and is played every year between traditional AFL rivals Collingwood and Essendon at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. This annual match is often considered the biggest of the AFL season outside of the finals, sometimes drawing bigger crowds than all but the Grand Final,[45] and often selling out in advance. A record crowd of 94,825 people attended the inaugural match in 1995.[46][47][48] The Anzac Medal is awarded to the player in the match who best exemplifies the Anzac spirit – skill, courage, self-sacrifice, teamwork and fair play. Collingwood hold the advantage 11 wins to 8 with one draw (in the inaugural year, 1995).

In 2013, St Kilda and the Sydney Swans played an Anzac Day game in Wellington, New Zealand, the first AFL game played for premiership points outside of Australia.[49] The winning team, Sydney, were presented with the inaugural Simpson-Henderson Trophy by the Prime Minister of New Zealand. The trophy was named after two notable Anzac soldiers: John Simpson Kirkpatrick and Richard Alexander Henderson.[50]

Rugby League football

Main articles: Anzac Test and Club ANZAC Game

Beginning in 1997, the Anzac Test, a rugby league test match, has commemorated Anzac Day, though it is typically played a week prior to Anzac Day. The match is always played between the Australian and New Zealand national teams, and has drawn attendances of between 20,000 and 45,000 in the past.

Domestically, matches have been played on Anzac Day since 1927 (with occasional exceptions). Since 2002, the National Rugby League (NRL) has followed the lead of the Australian Football League, hosting a match between traditional rivals St George Illawarra Dragons and the Sydney Roosters each year to commemorate Anzac Day in the Club ANZAC Game, although these two sides had previously met on Anzac Day several times as early as the 1970s. Since 2009, an additional Anzac Day game has been played between the Melbourne Storm and New Zealand Warriors.

New Zealand

Each year on ANZAC Day in Te Awamutu, New Zealand the graves of War Veterans are decorated

New Zealand's Commemoration of Anzac Day[51] is similar. The number of New Zealanders attending Anzac Day events in New Zealand, and at Gallipoli, is increasing. For some, the day adds weight to the idea that war is futile.[52]

Dawn service in Wellington, New Zealand on the 100 year anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli

Dawn Marches and other memorials nationwide are typically attended by the New Zealand Defence Force, the New Zealand Cadet Forces, members of the New Zealand Police, New Zealand Fire Service, Order of St John Ambulance Service (Youth and Adult Volunteers) as well as Scouting New Zealand, GirlGuiding New Zealand and other uniformed community service groups including in most places the local Pipe Band to lead or accompany the March, and sometimes a Brass Band to accompany the hymns.

Anzac Day now promotes a sense of unity, perhaps more effectively than any other day on the national calendar. People whose politics, beliefs and aspirations are widely different can nevertheless share a genuine sorrow at the loss of so many lives in war.

Paper poppies are widely distributed by the Returned Services Association and worn as symbols of remembrance. This tradition follows that of the wearing of poppies on Remembrance Sunday in other Commonwealth countries.[53]

The day is a public holiday in New Zealand. Shops are prohibited from opening before 1 pm as per the Anzac Day Act 1966. A prior Act passed in 1949 prevented the holiday from being "Mondayised" (moved to the 26th or 27th should the 25th fall on a weekend),[54] although this drew criticism from trade unionists and Labour Party politicians.[55] In 2013, a member's bill introduced by Labour MP David Clark to Mondayise Anzac Day and Waitangi Day passed, despite opposition from the governing National Party.[56]


In Turkey the name "ANZAC Cove" was officially recognised by the Turkish government on Anzac Day in 1985. In 1934, Kemal Atatürk delivered the following words to the first Australians, New Zealanders and British to visit the Gallipoli battlefields. This was later inscribed on a monolith at Ari Burnu Cemetery (ANZAC Beach) which was unveiled in 1985. The words also appear on the Kemal Atatürk Memorial, Canberra, and the Atatürk Memorial in Wellington:[57]

"Those heroes that shed their blood
And lost their lives.
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.
Therefore rest in peace.
There is no difference between the Johnnies
And the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side
Here in this country of ours.
You, the mothers,
Who sent their sons from far away countries
Wipe away your tears,
Your sons are now lying in our bosom
And are in peace
After having lost their lives on this land they have
Become our sons as well."

In 1990, to mark the 75th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing, Government officials from Australia and New Zealand (including Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke[59][60] and New Zealand Governor-General Paul Reeves[61]) as well as most of the last surviving Gallipoli veterans, and many Australian and New Zealand tourists travelled to Turkey for a special Dawn Service at Gallipoli. 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" in time for the year 2000 service.

A ballot was held to allocate passes for Australians and New Zealanders wishing to attend Anzac Day commemorations at Gallipoli in 2015. Of the 10,500 people that could be safely, securely and comfortably accommodated at the Anzac Commemorative Site, in 2015 this comprised places for 8,000 Australians, 2,000 New Zealanders and 500 official representatives of all nations involved in the Gallipoli campaign. Only those who received an offer of attendance passes attended the commemorations in 2015.[62]

Other overseas ceremonies

The High Commissioners of Australia and New Zealand lay wreaths at an Anzac Day ceremony at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.
Anzac Day ceremony in Montreal, Quebec
Anzac Day dawn service at the New Zealand Memorial, Hyde Park Corner, London, 25 April 2008.
Boys Brigade review on 25 April 2005 (Rarotonga)






United Kingdom



Hong Kong









United States

Anzac Day is commemorated at morning ceremonies at Rockefeller Center on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, pictured here.


Anzac Day has been criticised by a number of Australians and New Zealanders.[79][80] At its inception, Anzac Day faced criticism from the Australian labor movement, and in the country at large, there was opposition to political exploitation of what was seen as a day of mourning.[81] One controversy occurred in 1960 with the publication of Alan Seymour's classic play, The One Day of the Year,[82] which dramatised the growing social divide in Australia and the questioning of old values. In the play, Anzac Day is critiqued by the central character, Hughie, as a day of drunken debauchery by returned soldiers and as a day when questions of what it means to be loyal to a nation or Empire must be raised. The play was scheduled to be performed at the inaugural Adelaide Festival of Arts, but after complaints from the Returned Services League, the governors of the Festival refused permission for this to occur.[83]

In October 2008, former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating stated that he believes it is misguided for people to gather each year at Anzac Cove to commemorate the landing at Gallipoli, because it is "utter and complete nonsense" to suggest that the nation was "born again or even, redeemed there."[84] The then Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd rejected Keating's views, saying the Gallipoli campaign is "part of our national consciousness, it's part of our national psyche, it's part of our national identity, and I, for one, as Prime Minister of the country, am absolutely proud of it."[85]

Criticisms of the revival of public participation

Some critics have suggested that the revival in public interest in Anzac Day amongst the young results from the fact that younger Australians have not themselves experienced war.[86][87][88] Critics see the revival as part of a rise of unreflective nationalism in Australia which was particularly fostered by the then Australian Prime Minister John Howard.[89][90][91][92][93][94][95]

For decades, there have been concerns that the participation of young people in Anzac Day events has injected a carnival element into what is traditionally a solemn occasion. The change was highlighted by a rock concert-style performance at the 2005 Anzac Cove commemoration during which attendees drank and slept between headstones. After the event the site was left strewn with rubbish.[96][97][98] In 2013, historian Jonathan King expressed concern about the rising popularity of Anzac Day, arguing that "escalating commercial pressures threaten to turn the centenary [of the landing at Gallipoli] into a Big Day Out."[99]

Insufficient remembrance of the contribution of New Zealand

Other criticisms have revolved around a perceived overzealousness in Australian attachment to the event, either from participants unaware of the loss or when the focus is at the expense of remembrance of the contribution of New Zealand.[99] In 2005, then Prime Minister John Howard was criticised for shunning the New Zealand Anzac ceremony at Gallipoli,[100] preferring instead to spend his morning at a barbecue on the beach with Australian soldiers. In 2009, New Zealand historians noted that some Australian children were unaware that New Zealand was a part of ANZAC.[101] In 2012 a New Zealand journalist caused controversy following comments that Australian World War I soldiers were bludgers and thieves.[102]

See also


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