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.
What does ANZAC stand for?
ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The soldiers in those forces quickly became known as Anzacs, and the pride they took in that name endures to this day. Soldiers in the Australian Army still call each other 'Dig', short for digger, recalling the trenches in Gallipoli, France and Belgium.
The origins of ANZAC day
The 25th April marks the day when the invasion force landed on Gallipoli. It was meant to be a fast confrontation knocking Turkey out of the war but the opposition proved to be greater than expected and with both sides suffering heavy casualties the campaign dragged on for 8 months. News of the resulting death toll hit Australian and New Zealand hard and the first ANZAC Remembrance Day was officially set in 1916.
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.
Although Gallipoli was to be officially recorded as a military defeat, it was there that the great ANZAC tradition of bravery, mateship and self-sacrifice was forged.
What does ANZAC Day mean to Australia and New Zealand?
The importance to both Australia and New Zealand increased and has come to symbolise and commemorate the loss of 60,000 soldiers in the First World War and also the sacrifices made in the Second World War. It is a poignant reminder of how the two countries have fought together, made sacrifices and remained strong. ANZAC day in Australia and New Zealand is also a day when ordinary men and women reflect on the many different meanings of war.
“You can depend on our boys playing the game wherever they go, and we will do credit to Australia...”
- Private Gordon James Alford A.I.F.
ANZAC celebrations today
ANZAC Day begins with the Dawn Service. The timing is significant as dawn is the time of the original landing in Gallipoli in 1915. Simple services in the presence of a chaplain, they followed a Military routine and often this service was originally restricted to veterans. At the end of the service a lone bugler plays the last post. Nowadays with families and well-wishers taking part cities and large towns see huge turnouts.
The ANZAC day ceremony takes place at 10.15 am at the ANZAC War Memorial in the presence of the Prime Minister and the Governor General. It generally includes the laying of wreaths, a recitation, the Last Post, a period of silence, either the Rouse or the Reveille, and the national anthem.
In Brisbane, a silent service is held at midnight on April 24th. There is then a Dawn Service at the Shrine of Remembrance, and a large march is held later in the day with up to 15,000 people taking part and many more spectators.
Anzac Day is an important occasion for Australians and New Zealanders around the world. If you are in either country, join in with the commemorations wherever you can. And no matter where you live, take some time on the day to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
Today, at the centre of North Beach, where this campaign began, the Anzac Commemorative Site can be found, sitting below the formidable semi-circle of cliffs that confronted the Anzacs as they came in to land on 25th April 1915. There is no better place along the coastline of Gallipoli at which to stop and ponder the significance of that distant battle, and the heavy casualties endured.
Did any of your Australian or New Zealand relatives serve and fight during war or conflict? Do you have any missing pieces to your military genealogy research?