ANZAC Day is the solemn day of remembrance of those Australian and New Zealand Army Corps soldiers who fought and died at Gallipoli in 1915. It is also a day of remembrance for all soldiers who died while fighting for their country. It is celebrated on 25 April each year, regardless of on which day it falls. The day is a public holiday, however no replacement holiday is given if Anzac Day falls on a weekend (except in Western Australia).
The Australian Imperial Force (AIF) was formed in 1914. It was an all-volunteer expeditionary force that first served in the south-west Pacific and New Guinea, seizing German outposts. In November 1914, the AIF departed from Western Australia for Egypt to head off the Ottoman forces.
To support forces at the Western Front, the Allied forces needed to open a supply route to Russia and the key land platform they could use was the Gallipoli Peninsula. The British and French made attempts during February and March using battleships. Despite some success, mines and torpedoes damaged several ships.
On 25 April 1915, the combined Australian and New Zealand Army Corps joined the Allied Forces on the Gallipoli Peninsula for a catastrophic battle that lasted until January 1916. Of the more than 130,000 casualties during the Gallipoli Campaign, 8,709 were Australian and 2,721 were New Zealanders. Over 25,000 returned as wounded to the two countries.
Journalist Phillip, F. E. Schuler wrote of this defining moment in his book, “Australia in Arms” (published 1916):
“ANZAC! In April—a name unformed, undetermined; June—and the worth of a Nation and Dominion proved by the five letters—bound together, by the young army’s leader, Lieut.-General Sir W. Birdwood, in the inspired “Anzac”—Australian, New Zealand Army Corps.”
However, for all the gallantry and selfless sacrifice offered by Australians in this war, it must also be remembered that throughout World War 1 there was constant, unnecessary waste of human life. Bryce Courtenay writes about the sacrifice of the Light Horsemen in his introduction to “An Anzac’s Story” by Roy Kyle A.I.F (p. 152),
“Somehow, The Nek was to become a symbol not just for Gallipoli but for the appalling slaughter of the Great War. Their gallantry will never be forgotten, and the stupidity of the commanding generals must never be forgiven. This was a war where too many of the beautiful young of every nation were sacrificed willy-nilly by old men smelling of whisky, with the brass buttons on their tunics stretched to breaking point over their paunches. Dyspeptic colonels and generals, spluttering and mumbling through their tobacco-stained moustaches, watched men die through the rubber eyepieces of their field glasses and pronounced the battle glorious.”
ANZAC Day has been celebrated in Australia since October 1915 (in South Australia) then nationally on 25 April 1916. It has been a public holiday across the country since the mid-1920s.
ANZAC Day is always commemorated on April 25. In towns and cities, the day begins with a dawn service that, in it’s simplest form, includes the presence of a chaplain and a parade of veteran soldiers. After words of remembrance and a period of silence, a lone bugler plays the Last Post and the Reveille, the symbols of the order to ‘stand to’ before dawn on the battlefield.
Later in the morning of ANZAC Day, across Australia and New Zealand, there are parades of veterans, armed forces, military and non-military volunteers, cadets and community groups, and dignitaries.
ANZAC Day’s motto is ‘Lest We Forget’ and is a phrase uttered after the reading of the Ode of Remembrance, a poem called ‘For the Fallen’, written by Laurence Binyon in 1914 in England. The main verse of the poem, the fourth and middle verse, is quoted at ANZAC Day ceremonies, and other remembrance ceremonies.
“They shall not grow 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.”
* Where two dates are listed for a public holiday, please check your award or agreement to determine which of the two days is the relevant public holiday.