ANZAC day is commemorated annually on April 25th. It is a significant day for Australia and marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War.

The History of the Australian and New Zealand Forces

The word ANZAC is an acronym and stands for ‘Australian and New Zealand Army Corps’. The soldiers in these forces quickly became known as ANZACS and took pride in this title.

In 1914, the First World War broke out. Australia had only been a federated nation for thirteen years. When Britain declared war on Germany, Australia was automatically placed on the side of the Commonwealth. In 1915, Australian and New Zealand soldiers, who were all volunteers, formed an expedition that set out to capture the Gallipoli peninsula in order to open the Dardanelles to the allied navies. The ultimate objective was to capture Constantinople (now Istanbul), which was an ally of Germany.

The Australian and New Zealand forces landed on Gallipoli on 25th April, meeting strong resistance from determined Turkish defenders. The troops landed in the wrong position. They were meant to land on a flat beach where their chances of successfully attacking the enemy troops would have been much higher. The odds against the allied forces were significant, but they managed to hold on and resist many Turkish attacks. The campaign became a stalemate, continuing to drag on for eight months. At the end of 1915, the Australian and New Zealand forces were withdrawn. Both sides had suffered heavy casualties. More than 8000 Australians had died.

The Gallipoli campaign failed in its military objectives, but the actions of the Australian and New Zealand forces left a powerful legacy. To cope with such a horrendous experience, soldiers had to develop strong bonds with each other and demonstrate extraordinary courage, experience and bravery. The ANZAC legend became an important part of our national identity.

The Tradition of ANZAC Day

The first ANZAC day commemorations were held in 1916, with the 25th April being officially named ANZAC day. There were a variety of services and celebrations across Australia, and a march through London. In the Sydney march, convoys of cars carried soldiers who had been wounded at Gallipoli.

In the 1920s, ANZAC day was established as a national day of commemoration for all the 60000 Australians who had died in the war. The first ever public holiday was observed across all states in 1927.By the 1930s, many ANZAC day rituals, such as dawn vigils, marches and two-up games, were firmly established as part of ANZAC day culture.

In later years, ANZAC day also served to commemorate the lives of Australians who had died in the Second World War.

Today, there is usually two components to the ANZAC day celebrations.

1.  The Dawn Service – observed at this time because the half-light of dawn was often favoured for launching an attack. Soldiers were woken before dawn so that by the time it was light, they were awake and alert, ready for any attacks. The dawn service allows soldiers to return to the comradeship they felt in those quiet, peaceful moments before dawn.

2.  Services Later in the Day – Usually these services consist of marches in which former service men and women take place. These ceremonies are normally more formal and held at war memorials, which are usually found in every town. These ceremonies are a way for Australians to reflect on the meaning and consequence of war.

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