On ANZAC day on April 25th, every year, Australia and New Zealand commemorate those who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations. More than 416,000 Australian men out of the total population of 5 million were enlisted for going to WWI battlefields. 331,000 were deployed and 60,000 of which were killed and 155,000 wounded with tens of thousands with crippling afflictions.
In the First World War Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) fought at Gallipoli on the dawn of April 25th 1915 as part of an allied expedition that aimed to capture the Gallipoli Peninsula. The ANZACs were made up of two divisions: the Australian Division and the New Zealand and Australian Division. The Australian Division was made up of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Australian Infantry Brigades. The New Zealand and Australian Division was made up of the New Zealand Infantry Brigade, the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade, the Australian Light Horse and the 4th Australian Infantry Brigade.
The ANZACS met strong resistance from the Ottoman Army and the Gallipoli campaign became a stalemate, which dragged on for a gruelling eight months. The Ottoman Casualties were 174,828 with 56,643 dead, the Allied casualties were 187,409 with 56,707 dead. Among the Allied forces, Australia had 28,150 casualties with 8,709 dead and New Zealand had 7,473 casualties with 2,721 dead. The men who served on the Gallipoli Peninsula created a legend and Gallipoli has special importance to many Australians. It also created a sense of national identity as it was the first international incident where the Australians took part as Australians, after establishment of self-governed British colony Federation of Australia in 1901.
In February 1916, following an extensive period of re-training, re-equipping and expansion, the ANZACs were deployed to France and divided into two armies; I ANZAC and II ANZAC. Both units acquitted themselves brilliantly against the Germans, and I ANZAC’s 2nd Division is held up as one of the most successful units for their capture of the heavily fortified Mont St-Quentin, an achievement that Mark Adkin describes as “the finest single feat of the war”. They inflicted five times as many casualties on the Germans as they received in the extremely well planned and conducted assault.
“You can depend on our boys playing the game wherever they go, and we will do credit to Australia...”
- Private Gordon James Alford
By the 1920s, ANZAC Day had become a way to memorialise the sixty thousand Australian soldiers who died in the First World War. By the next decade, all Australian states had a form of celebration for Anzac Day, and many of the traditions we still carry out today had already taken shape. Forevermore, the 25th of April would be known as the day Australia arrived as a force in the world.
Unlike in the UK, the service records of Australian and New Zealand personnel are provided free of charge in the countries’ National Archives and are relatively easy to search by name.
To help commemorate this sacred day we have assembled 10 facts you may not know about Anzac Day.
- 1. ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The Anzacs fought in the Gallipoli campaign in 1915 and were quickly known throughout their camps for their brave and honourable spirit.
- 2. The Anzacs were all volunteers, there was no conscription. Men would travel far and wide to sign up as it was seen as a courageous and brave act to fight for your country.
- 3. Two-up is a traditional gambling game only allowed to be played on Anzac Day through pubs and clubs in Australia. It was played extensively by the Australian soldiers during WWI.
- 4. There is no town called Gallipoli. It is the name of the area where the Anzacs fought.
- 5. The 25th April was officially named 'Anzac Day' in 1916 but the first dawn service was not held until 1923.
- 6. The last surviving Anzac was a man named Alec Campbell who died on 16th May 2002.
- 7. The Gallipoli campaign ended in a stalemate, when the Anzacs slipped away quietly over two nights.
- 8. The Last Post was typically played during the war to tell soldiers the day’s fighting had finished. It is now played at memorial services to indicate the duty of the dead has finished, and they can rest in peace.
- 9. The Anzac biscuits were traditionally square hard tack biscuits that many men were said to have 'broken their teeth on'. It became one of the soldier’s staple foods and could be ground down to make porridge, thicken a stew, fried as fritters and even comically described to be used as souvenirs that could be passed onto generations.
- 10. During the Gallipoli campaign, the Anzac and Turkish soldiers called a truce for eight hours to bury their dead on May 24th 1915.
Discovering your ancestors in the framework of such rich military history makes genealogy much more than just dates and places – it’s about people, heroes, bravery, lives saved and lives lost.
It’s about your history — it’s about you!