Held every 25th of April, Anzac Day marks the first campaign in which major casualties were suffered by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War. The acronym ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and whose soldiers were known as Anzacs. Celebrated now as a day that remembers and honours all Australians and New Zealanders who have served and died for their country, it should not be forgotten that Anzac Days foundations was to honour and remember the members of this corps who fought during the Great War at Gallipoli against the Turks of the Ottoman Empire.
It took five days for word of the Gallipoli landings to reach New Zealand and Australia. On the 30th of April New Zealand held impromptu services and declared a half-day holiday. The people of Southern Australia built their first war memorial to those who had been killed in the landings and unveiled it on the 7th September 1915. Also the Eight Hour Day (Labour Day) was renamed Anzac Day and a carnival was held to raise money that was then donated to the Wounded Soldiers Fund.
On the 10th of January 1916 a committee was established (Anzac Day Commemoration Committee of Queensland). It was headed by Cannon John Garland and a public meeting endorsed the 25th April 1916 as Anzac Day and that it should be promoted every year thereafter and would be a non-denominational commemoration that could be attended by the whole of Australian society. Cannon John Garland is credited with initiating the Anzac Day march, the wreath-laying ceremonies at memorials as well as the two minutes silence. The silence was used in lieu of a prayer to allow attendees to make a silent prayer or remembrance in accordance with their own beliefs.
As well as marches being held across Australia, in London 2,000 Anzac troops marched through the streets of the capitol. A popular newspaper of the time dubbed them “The Knights of Gallipoli”. For the rest of the war years Anzac Day became an occasion for patriotic rallies, recruiting campaigns, and marches for serving members of the Australian Imperial Force were held in most cities. In the 1920’s it became a National Day of Commemoration to remember the 60,000 Australians and 18,000 New Zealanders who died in the Great War. However, it wasn’t until 1927 that every Australian state observed Anzac Day as a public holiday.
Anzac Day traditionally begins with a Dawn Service. The first service was held at the Sydney Cenotaph in 1927. At first this was restricted to veterans only and the other ceremonies and events held during the day were for the families of the fallen and the general public. This over the years has changed with the Great War veterans having all now passed away.
The origins of this moving service stems from the military routine followed by most armies. The half-light of dawn was the time of day when attacks would be launched and so a general stand-to would take place when the soldiers manned their trenches fully equipped to repel or launch an attack. This procedure would be repeated at dusk. This service also became symbolic with the dawn landings at Gallipoli. At the start of this ceremony a lone bugler will play the Last Post and Reveille at the ceremonies conclusion.
Today on the Western Front two notable places hold this moving ceremony. One is held at ‘Polygon Wood’, Belgium at the Buttes New British Cemetery. Many of the Soldiers buried here are Australian and New Zealand and fought at Third Ypres in the battles of the Menin Road, Polygon wood, Broodsiende and the push for Passchendaele. The New Zealanders have a memorial located here to all their soldiers who have no known grave. The other is held at the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial in France. This is the Australian Nation al Memorial and was erected to commemorate all Australian soldiers who fought in France and Belgium during the First World War. This is a fitting place for the Australian Memorial as it was here that the German Army captured the village on the 23rd April 1918. Two Australian Divisions (4th & 5th) along with other units of the 8th and 18th Divisions counter attacked and re-captured the village buy the 8th August. They then advanced from the village’s eastern outskirts in the Battle of Amiens.
This year to March Anzac Day and the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele (Third Ypres) the famous Menin Gate Lions will be unveiled. These Lions guarded the entrance to the town of Ypres at the old Menin Gate. They were gifted to the Australians by the town for their service during the war and will return to their duty as guardians of the gate from the 24th April until the 12th November 2017.
So this 25th April remember the Australians, New Zealanders and British troops who fought in the Great War and landed on the bloody beaches of Gallipoli.
Lest we Forget