April 25 is observed each year as Anzac Day — 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”. Anzac Day was originally devised to honor the members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who fought at Gallipoli against the Ottoman Empire during World War I, specifically marking the landing at Gaba Tepe (now more commonly known as Anzac Cove) on Sunday, April 25, 1915, as part of the amphibious invasion of the Gallipoli Peninsula by the forces of the British Empire, Anzac Day is also observed in the Cook Islands, Niue, Pitcairn Islands, and Tonga, and previously was a national holiday in Papua New Guinea and Samoa. There are also several commemorations in Malaysia and here in Thailand. Although I have been to the Memorial Cemetery in Kanchanaburi, I have yet to attend the Anzac Day Dawn Service in Hellfire Pass.
The Gallipoli Campaign was the first that led to major casualties for Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War. Anzac Day remains one of the most important national occasions of both Australia and New Zealand.
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 April 25, 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 deaths totaled over 56,000, including 8,709 from Australia and 2,721 from New Zealand. News of the landing at Gallipoli made a profound impact on Australians and New Zealanders at home and April 25 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. The heroism of the soldiers in the failed Gallipoli campaign made their sacrifices iconic in New Zealand memory, and is often credited with securing the psychological independence of the nation.
When the first news of the landing reached New Zealand on April 30, 1915, a half-day holiday was declared and impromptu services were held.
In South Australia, Australia’s first built memorial to the Gallipoli landing was unveiled by Governor-General Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson on Wattle Day, September 7, just over four months after the first landings. The monument was originally the centerpiece of the Wattle Day League’s Gallipoli Memorial Wattle Grove, later known as Wattle Grove, on Sir Lewis Cohen Avenue in the South Park Lands but in 1940 the Adelaide City Council moved the monument and its surrounding pergola to Lundie Garden, a lawned area off South Terrace near the junction with Anzac Highway. The original native pines and remnant seedlings of the original wattles still grow in Wattle Grove. Also in South Australia, Eight Hour Day, October 13, 1915, was renamed Anzac Day and a carnival was organized to raise money for the Wounded Soldiers Fund.
The date of April 25 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. Australian Great War battalion and brigade war diaries show that on this first anniversary, units including those on the front line, made efforts to solemnize 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 organized sports activities with the proceeds of any gambling going to Battalion funds. This occurred in Egypt as well.
In Queensland on January 10, 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 April 25 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. 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. 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.
In London, in the same year, 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 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 April 25, mainly organized by returned servicemen and school children in cooperation with local authorities.
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, the RSA. In Australia at the 1921 State Premiers’ Conference, it was decided that Anzac Day would be observed on April 25 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.
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 wars. 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.
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.
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. 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. In the 1980s, Australian feminists used the annual Anzac Day march to protest against rape and violence in war and were banned from marching.
Until 1981, Papua New Guinea commemorated its war dead on Anzac Day; however, since then Remembrance Day has been observed on July 23, the date of the first action of the Papuan Infantry Battalion against the Japanese at Awala in 1942 during the Kokoda Track campaign.
Following Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War, interest in Anzac Day reached its lowest point. On April 26, 1975, The Australian newspaper covered the passing of Anzac Day in a single story. However, since the 1980s, attendance at Anzac Day has grown, with an increasing number of those attending being young Australians, 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. This phenomenon has been perceived by some as a reflection of the desire of younger generations of Australians to honor the sacrifices made by the previous generations.
Australians and New Zealanders recognize April 25 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-recognized battles and greatest losses, such as Villers-Bretonneux in France and Gallipoli in Turkey.
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 centers.
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.
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 and in New Zealand poppies have taken on this role.
In Australia, 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 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, 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; even the threat of a terrorist attack at the Gallipoli site in 2004 did not deter some 15,000 Australians from making the pilgrimage to Turkey to commemorate the fallen ANZAC troops.
Although commemoration events are always held on April 25, 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. 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. However, in 2009, the Legislative Council of Tasmania rejected a bill amendment that would have enabled the substitute holiday in that state.
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.
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, and often selling out in advance. A record crowd of 94,825 people attended the inaugural match in 1995. 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. 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.
From 1997, the Anzac Test, a rugby league test match, has commemorated Anzac Day, though it is typically played 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. The final Anzac test occurred in 2017.
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.
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.
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.
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), although this drew criticism from trade unionists and Labour Party politicians. 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.
New Zealand’s reason for having Anzac Day as its national commemoration day is different to Australia. In 1921, the poppies were ordered by the RSA for Armistice Day but arrived too late on the ship Westmorland. The RSA was stuck with the cost of 350,000 of these French made poppies and to get its money returned quickly it chose the next commemoration date available to sell them — Dardanelles Day, April 25, 1922. This date then stuck in the psyche of New Zealanders ever since. So Anzac Day in New Zealand was used by accident and not as a direct association to Anzac, Australia or Gallipoli. New Zealand did copy Australia in having dawn services 16 years later, despite New Zealand not landing at dawn at Gallipoli. Attempts have been made to revert to Armistice Day, commencing with the “Tomb for the Unknown Warrior” parade in 2004. But New Zealanders have resisted, unaware of its history. The reason for some wanting to revert is that other bigger battles and losses have since been ignored. Gallipoli accounted for 8% of New Zealand’s war losses and 60% of those were not the result of direct combat.
In Turkey, the name “ANZAC Cove” was officially recognized 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:
“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 and New Zealand Governor-General Paul Reeves 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.
In Kanchanaburi, Thailand, a dawn service each year on Anzac Day is held at Hellfire Pass, a rock cutting dug by allied Prisoners of War and Asian laborers for the Thai-Burma Railway. This cutting is where the greatest number of lives were lost during railway construction. Access to the Royal Thai Army camp at Sai Yok where Hellfire Pass is located is granted to the public starting at 3:00 am on the morning of April 25. The dawn service at Konyu Cutting, below the Hellfire Pass Interpretive Centre (approximately 85 kilometers from the town of Kanchanaburi) begins at 5:30 am; getting to the site involves approximately a 20-minute walk along the old railway line through the jungle in the dark. This is followed by a “gunfire breakfast” at the Hellfire Interpretive Centre.
At 11 am, a second ceremony is held at the main POW cemetery in the town of Kanchanaburi, where 6,982 POWs are buried, mostly British, Australian, Dutch and Canadians. Over the years, both services have been attended by some Anzac ex-POWs and their families travelling from Australia, as well as ambassadors from the Australian and New Zealand consulates, the Kanchanaburi Provincial Governor, and others. The closest Saturday to Anzac Day also sees the ex-POWs attend an Australian Rules football match between the Thailand Tigers AFL club and a team invited from neighboring Asian countries. There is also a barbeque held directly after the service in a clearing to the east of the War Cemetery in which local sponsors have provide food free of charge and refreshments are available for purchase with all proceeds to be directed towards service charities.
Here in southern Thailand, the Australian Consulate-General and New Zealand Embassy sponsored a dawn service at 5:45 this morning at the Phuket Yacht Club, followed by a light breakfast.
From the beginning, there has been concern to protect the Anzac tradition from inappropriate use. In Australia, use of the word Anzac is regulated under the Protection of Word ‘Anzac’ Act 1920. The Protection of Word ‘Anzac’ Regulations 1921 state that: “no person may use the word ‘Anzac’, or any word resembling it, in connection with any trade, business, calling or profession or in connection with any entertainment or any lottery or art union or as the name or part of a name of any private residence, boat, vehicle of charitable or other institution, or other institution, or any building without the authority of the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs”. The maximum penalty is 12 months imprisonment, or $10,200 for a person and $51,000 for a corporation.
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. In 2013, historian Jonathan King said that “escalating commercial pressures threaten to turn the centenary [of the landing at Gallipoli] into a Big Day Out.”
Over recent years, some historians and commentators have raised concerns over what they see as the increasing commercialization of Anzac Day. In 2015, historian Dr. Carolyn Holbrook stated that companies were seeking to associate themselves with Anzac Day as “Anzac is the most potent and popular brand going around in Australia today”. Historian Professor Joan Beaumont, researcher Jo Hawkins and historical commentator Dr. David Stephens have argued that the Federal Government has not been sufficiently enforcing regulations which limit the extent to which companies can refer to Anzac Day, or use the word “Anzac”, in their marketing. There has been widespread public opposition to the more blatant attempts to commercialize Anzac Day, which has led to some products being withdrawn from sale. Many of the products associated with the centenary of the Gallipoli landings were also commercial failures.
While New Zealand commemorated the end of World War I with a Victory set released on January 27, 1920 (Scott #165-170), the first stamps by Australia mentioning the war weren’t issued until March 18, 1935 (Scott #150-151). These marked the 20th anniversary of the ANZAC landing at Gallipoli and the two denominations — 2 pence red and 1 shilling black — each bore a design featuring the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London. The Post Office had sought design suggestions from the State and Territory branches of the Returned Soldiers and Sailors Imperial League, requesting that designs be symbolic of remembrance rather than militaristic. The chosen design was by B. Cottier of Melbourne and adapted by the engraver, Frank Manley. The final stamp design included titled shields, heraldic devices signifying “end of combat”. The stamps were recess printed by John Ash. The 2 pence stamp was perforated 13½x12½ while the chalk-surfaced 1 shilling was perforated 11. A variety of the 1 shilling perforated 13½x12½ is a plate proof and valued more than USD $3,500 for a mint never hinged copy.