Anzac Day History

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In Australia & New Zealand, ANZAC DAY commemoration features solemn ‘dawn services’, a tradition started in Albany, Western Australia on 25 April 1923 & 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) is often recited.

ANZAC Day Origins

The ANZAC tradition began in World War 1 with a landing on 25 April, 1915 near Gallipoli on the Turkish Aegean coast. Because of a navigational error, the Anzac’s came ashore about a mile north of the intended landing point. Instead of facing the expected beach and gentle slope they found themselves at the bottom of steep cliffs, offering the few Turkish defenders an ideal defensive position. Establishing a foothold, the Anzacs found an advance to be impossible. After eight months of stalemate the Allies withdrew, leaving 10,000 dead amongst the Anzac’s & over 33,000 British dead. Although the Anzac’s were a minority of the half-million Allied men who served at Gallipoli, the troops from the two young nations were often at the vanguard & became renowned for their doggedness despite what the British regarded as a lack of discipline. A full 10% of the New Zealand population (then just under 1 million) served overseas during World War 1. The last known Gallipoli veteran of any nationality, Alec Campbell of Tasmania, Australia, died in May 2002.

Beginnings of the memorial ANZAC Day

On April 30 1915, when the first news of the landing reached New Zealand, a half-day holiday was declared & impromptu services were held. The following year a public holiday was gazetted on 5 April & services to commemorate were organized by the returned servicemen. From 1916 onwards, in both Australia & New Zealand, Anzac services were held on or about April 25, mainly organized by returned servicemen & school children in cooperation with local authorities. ANZAC Day was not gazetted as a public holiday in New Zealand until 1921, after lobbying by the RSA. In Australia, at the 1921 state premiers conference it was decided that ANZAC Day would be observed on the 25 April each year. However it was not observed uniformly in all the states. One of the traditions of ANZAC DAY is the ‘gunfire breakfast’, which occurs shortly after any dawn ceremonies.


Marches by veterans from all past wars & current serving members of the Australian Defence Force are held in capital cities & towns nationwide. The ANZAC DAY parade from each state capital is televised live with commentary. These events are followed generally by social gatherings of veterans, hosted either in a pub or in an RSL Club, often including a traditional Australian gambling game called ‘two-up’, which was an extremely popular pastime with ANZAC soldiers. The importance of this tradition is demonstrated by the fact that though most Australian states have laws forbidding gambling outside of designated licensed venues, on Anzac Day it is legal to play ‘two-up’. Although Australia’s official national day is in fact Australia Day, many Australians have now come to regard ANZAC DAY as the true national day of the country. Despite federation being proclaimed in Australia in 1901, many argue the ‘national identity’ of Australia was largely forged during the violent conflict of World War 1 & the most iconic event in the war for most Australians was the landing at Gallipoli. In recent years ANZAC Day has grown in popularity in Australia & even the threat of a terrorist attack at the Gallipoli site in 2004 could not deter some 15,000 Australians from making the pilgrimage to Turkey to commemorate the fallen ANZAC. The Vietnam War in the 1970’s, with conscription & other unpleasant nesses, saw some of the population reluctant to participate in war-related events such as ANZAC Day due to the controversy of Australia’s contribution to the Vietnam War. That attitude has since largely faded, with the day treated as a commemoration of the fallen rather than a celebration of wars. In recent years however, some people have felt that the Anzac Day tradition has been turned into a festive celebration of heroism & patriotism, which is seen as incompatible with the solemnity of remembering those who were killed in wars.

New Zealand

New Zealand’s Commemoration of ANZAC Day is similar, though on several occasions the day has become an opportunity for some groups for political protest. In 1967, two members of the left-wing Progressive Youth Movement in Christchurch staged a minor protest at the Anzac ceremony, laying a wreath protesting against the Vietnam War. The number of New Zealanders attending ANZAC Day events in New Zealand & at Gallipoli, is increasing. For some younger people, the sombre focus of the day receives less emphasis than do the more celebratory aspects of a national holiday. For most, though, the day is an occasion on which to formally pay tribute & to remember. ANZAC Day now promotes a sense of unity, perhaps more effectively than any other day on the national calendar. People whose politics, beliefs & aspirations are widely different can nevertheless share a genuine sorrow at the loss of so many lives in war& a real respect for those who have endured warfare on behalf of the country they live in.


In 1990, to mark the 75th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing, government officials from Australia & New Zealand, most of the last surviving Gallipoli veterans & many Australian & New Zealand tourists travelled to Turkey for a special dawn service at Gallipoli. The service at dawn in Gallipoli has since become popular to attend on ANZAC Day. Upwards of 10,000 people have attended services in Gallipoli. Until 1999 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’.

Other overseas ceremonies

There is a dawn service held at the recently constructed Australian War Memorial at Hyde Park Corner in London.

2025 Gallipoli Commemorations

ANZAC Day is a national day of commemoration in New Zealand & Australia when we remember those who died in the war. The Gallipoli Peninsula is equally revered by the Turkish people who also suffered great loss defending their homeland against invasion. It is also a place of remembrance for other countries that participated in the 1915 campaign including Britain, France, India, Ireland, South Africa, Canada, Bangladesh, Pakistan & Germany. Commemoration services will be held over two days. The Turkish International Service (Mehmetcik Abide), French Memorial Service (Morto Bay) & Commonwealth Memorial Service (Cape Helles) will be held on Tuesday 24 April. The Anzac Dawn Service (Anzac Commemorative Cove at North Beach), the Australian Memorial Service (Lone Pine) the Turkish 57th Regiment Memorial Service & the New Zealand Memorial Service (Chunuk Bair) will be held on Sunday 25 April.

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