Wednesday, April 13, 2011


   Anzac Day is a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand, and is commemorated by both countries on April 25th every year to honor members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who fought at Gallipoli in Turkey during World War I.  It is now more broadly commemorates all those who died and served in military operations for their countries.  Anzac Day is also observed in the Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa and Tonga.


   Anzac Day marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by 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.  This is a rare instance of two sovereign countries not only sharing the same remembrance day, but making reference to both countries in its name.

Foundations of Anzac Day  

   ON April 30th, 1915, when the first news of the landing reached New Zealand, a half day holiday was declared and impromptu services were held.  The following year a public holiday was officially declared on April 5th and services to commemorate were organized by the returned servicemen.
   April 25th, 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, a march through London, and a sports day for the Australian and New Zealand soldiers in Egypt.  The small New Zealand community of Tinui,near Materton in the Wairarapa was apparently the first place in New Zealand to have an Anzac Day service, when the then vicar led an expedition to place a large wooden cross on the Tinui Taipos (high large hill behind the village) in April of 1916 to commemorate the dead.  A service was held on April 25th of that yer.  In 2006 the 90th anniversary of the event was commemorated with a full 21 gun salute fired at the service by soldiers from the Waiouru Army Camp.


   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 parades 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 April 25th, mainly organized by returned servicemen and school children in
cooperation with local authorities.  Anzac Day became a public holiday in New Zealand in 1920, through the Anzac Day Act, after lobbying by the New Zealand Returned Soldiers' Association's, the RSA.  During the 1920's, it became established as a National Day of Commemoration for the 60,000 Australians and 18,000 New Zealanders who died during the war.

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 military operations in which the countries have been involved.
   From the 1960's, but especially in the 70's and 80's, Anzac Day became increasingly controversial in both Australia and New Zealand.  The day was used by anti-Vietnam War protesters to agitate against that war and war in general, and ceremonies were later targeted by feminists, anti-nuclear campaigners, Maori activists and others.


   In Australia and Ne Zealand, Anzac Day commemoration features solemn "Dawn Services", a tradition started in Albany, Western Australia on April 25th, 1923, and now held at war memorials around both countries, accompanied by thought 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" (know as the "ode of Remembrance") is often recited.