Anzac Day 2021: how the Gallipoli battle helped Australia and New Zealand forge national identities
Anzac Day, the national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand, is fast approaching.
Recognised annually on April 25, the day marks the anniversary of the first major military campaign fought by Australian and New Zealand soldiers during the First World War.
On this date in 1915, the troops, who quickly became known as the Anzacs, landed in Turkey, joining the allied expedition that planned to capture the Gallipoli Peninsula.
Since the date was officially named Anzac Day in 1916, remembrance services have taken place to celebrate the bravery of those who fought in Gallipoli, with memorial events now held across the globe to honour all those who served and died in conflicts.
From the history of events that took place on April 25 to today’s worldwide commemorations, here is the story of Anzac Day.
What does ‘Anzac’ stand for?
The term ‘Anzac’ stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The group of soldiers formed in Egypt in December 1914, and were commanded by General William Birdwood, comprising of troops from the First Australian Imperial Force and First New Zealand Expeditionary Force.
The Anzacs are most well known for operating in the Battle of Gallipoli in 1915, but they also briefly re-established in 1941, serving in the Battle of Greece during the Second World War.
The Gallipoli campaign
On April 25, 1915, the Anzacs joined the British Empire and French troops at Gallipoli, Turkey, landing at what is now known as Anzac Cove.
As part of their plans to capture the Gallipoli peninsula and open the Dardanelles to the allied navies, the troops set out to capture Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire, which is now known as Istanbul.
Upon arrival, the Anzacs were met with the Ottoman Turkish defenders and faced a challenging battle in the subsequent eight months.
By the end of 1915, the military objectives were not successfully met and more than 8,000 Australian soldiers had been killed.
The impact of Anzac Day
While the eight month campaign resulted in tragedy and troops failed to capture the Gallipoli peninsula, the sacrifices the Anzacs made left a profound effect on those back home and became a source of national pride in Australia and New Zealand.
The “Anzac legend” soon forged a significant part of both countries’ identities and in 1916, the first commemorations were held on April 25, with several ceremonies across Australia, a sports day in the Australian camp in Egypt and a march attended by 2,000 Australian and New Zealand troops in London.
Patriotic events continued to be held on April 25 throughout the following years and during the 1920s, Anzac Day was established as a public holiday in Australia. By 1927, every state held a form of commemoration.
In the 1930s, dawn vigils, memorial services and games of two-up became annual traditions to honour the Anzacs, many of which continue to play an important role in modern day commemorations.
In later years, April 25 evolved as a day to recognise the Australians and New Zealanders who died in the Second World War and since 1942, Anzac Day has been honoured at the Australian War Memorial.
Nowadays, Anzac Day is a national occasion to remember everyone who served and died in all wars and peacekeeping action.
Thought to have increased in Australia following the events of 1915, the dawn services were previously restricted to veterans and would tend to include a single bugler playing the “Last Post”, followed by two minutes of silence.
In recent years, families of veterans and members of the public have also attended the dawn services and the events now often include hymns, prayers and the recital of the “For the Fallen” poem.
While they are held in both Australia and New Zealand annually on April 25, other countries around the world including France and the UK also hold their own dawn services.
Other ceremonies later take place at war memorials on the day, where wreaths are laid to reflect on those who fought and lost their lives.
Ex-servicemen and women also join city marches to remember those who served in conflicts while rosemary is traditionally worn on April 25, because it was found growing wild on the Gallipoli peninsula.
Last year, many commemorations did not go ahead and Australia and New Zealand cancelled their Anzac Day events at Gallipoli due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Instead, virtual services were held to honour those who served and died in wars and Australians observed a minute of silence from their homes.
This year, many Anzac Day events are set to return in line with the latest Covid-19 restrictions, including the veterans’ march in Sydney, Australia, which will see 10,000 people in attendance.
Other marches and dawn services across Australia will be ticketed or restricted to smaller groups of people, and some events will be livestreamed online, to allow everyone to pay their respects at home.
Australians are also being encouraged to “Light up the Dawn” once again by holding candles and torches on their driveways at 6am on April 25.
Two-up is a gambling game originating from Australia, where two coins are tossed into the air and players make a bet on whether they will land on heads or tails.
It was often played by Australian troops throughout the First World War but its popularity later declined in the 1950s, due to other gambling developments such as poker machines.
Now Anzac Day is the only day of the year where people can legally play two-up in all Australian states, with games taking place in Returned Servicemen’s League clubs.
Anzac biscuits, the sweet treats made from rolled oats, were frequently sent to soldiers during the First World War.
Previously known as soldiers’ biscuits, wives and women’s groups would send them to troops abroad because they retained a high nutritional value and remained edible, without refrigeration, during transportation.
Anzac biscuits became a common part of the soldiers’ diets in Gallipoli and today, they are one of the few commercial products legally produced using the term ‘Anzac’.
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