Australia and New Zealand commemorate the ANZAC Day public holiday on the 25th of April every year to honour the bravery and sacrifice of the members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC), and of all those who served their country in time of war. ANZAC Day is also a public holiday in Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa and Tonga.
The Anzac tradition began during World War I with a landing in 1915 at Gallipoli on the Turkish Aegean coast. Because of a navigational error, the Anzacs 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 Anzacs.
Although numerically the Anzacs 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 and 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 I, and New Zealand had the highest casualty and death rate per capita of any country involved in the war.
Beginnings of the Memorial Day
On April 30 1915, when the first news of the landing reached New Zealand a half-day holiday was declared and impromptu services were held. The following year a public holiday was gazetted on 5 April and services to commemorate were organised by the returned servicemen.
From 1916 onwards, in both Australia and New Zealand, Anzac services were held on or about April 25, mainly organised by returned servicemen and 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 be observed on the 25 April each year. However it was not observed uniformly in all the states.
In Australia and New Zealand, ANZAC Day commemoration features solemn "dawn services", a tradition started in Albany, Western Australia on 25th April 1923 and now held at war memorials around the country, accompanied by thoughts of those lost at war to the ceremonial sounds of the Last Post on the bugle. The third and fourth stanzas of Laurence Binyon's poem For the Fallen are often read out.
Marches by veterans from all past wars are held in capital cities and towns nationwide. The ANZAC Day parade from each state capital is televised live with commentary. These events are followed generally by events hosted by the RSL, often including a traditional Australian gambling game called "two-up", which was an extremely popular pastime with Anzac soldiers. 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, the national identity of Australia was largely forged during World War 1, and 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 and even the threat of a terrorist attack at the Gallippoli site in 2004 could not deter some 15,000 Australians from making the pilgrimage to Turkey to commemorate the fallen Anzac troops.
The Vietnam War in the 1970s, with conscription and other unpleasantnesses, 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 military glories.
New Zealand's celebration 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. They were subsequently convicted of disorderly conduct, but that was far from the last time that the parade was used as a vehicle for protest. In 1978 a women's group laid a wreath dedicated to all the women killed and raped during war, and at various times during the 1980s movements for feminism, homosexuality, anti-nuclear war/peace used this commemorative day to reflect on some of their own personal strivings for human rights.
In 1990, to mark the 75th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing, government officials from Australia and New Zealand, 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 service at dawn in Gallipoli has since become popular to attend on ANZAC Day. Upwards of 10,000 people have attended services in Gallipoli.
Up until 1999 the Gallipoli dawn service had been held at the Ari Burnu war cemetery at Anzac Cove however the growing numbers of people attending resulted in the construction of a more spacious site on North Beach , known as the "Anzac Commemorative Site".
The last known Gallipoli veteran, Alec Campbell, died in May 2002.