ANZAC Day is one of the most important occasions on the Australian calendar. It commemorates the anniversary of when Australian and New Zealand forces landed on the shores of Gallipoli in Turkey, back on the 25th April, 1915.
The acronym stands for ‘Australian and New Zealand Army Corps’. This was the name given to the soldiers of both countries who landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula at dawn on that day during World War I.
Devastating losses were experienced on all sides and for Australia, the total deaths amounted to 8,709*, including those killed in action, those who died of their wounds from that battle and those who died of disease later.
In addition, it is estimated that 664 Australian officers and 17,260 soldiers were wounded, with 70 Australians officially reported as captured on Gallipoli.
*Source: Australian War Memorial.
Commonly over the course of history, dawn has been chosen as the time to launch a battle due to the low light and unpreparedness of the enemy. The Gallipoli landing was in fact launched at dawn as the sun began to peer over the horizon. Since as early as 1918, the ANZAC Day commemorations have been held as the sun rises and is known as a Dawn Service.
Dawn is also considered to be a special, reflective time, acknowledging what the soldiers would have experienced in the quiet, tranquil moments before the attack. Today, it holds an eerie quality on ANZAC Day as people from all walks of life, including the military, gather to honour the fallen soldiers every year.
The Australian War Memorial in Canberra hosts a public Dawn Service in cooperation with the Returned and Services League (RSL) of Australia ACT branch. Later, at 10.15am, the National Ceremony commences and is attended by the Prime Minister and Governor-General.
The order of service typically encompasses the laying of wreaths, hymns and prayers, an address, a bugler playing The Last Post and either the Rouse or the Reveille, and all in attendance sing the national anthem. The Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier and the Roll of Honour walls then become the focal point, as people place red poppies as a sign of remembrance.
These commemorations are repeated all over Australia, in parks, on beaches, at schools and other public spaces though some may hold them in advance such as schools because they are closed on 25th April.
Overseas, ANZAC Day is observed in other countries too, particularly the battlegrounds such as Pozières and Villers-Bretonneux in France and Zonnebeke in Belgium.
Official ceremonies are held in Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam, presided over by the Australian Embassy or High Commission. It is also, of course, commemorated in ceremonies all across New Zealand.
In general, a ‘Tomb of the Unknown Soldier’ refers to a monument that is dedicated to the services of an unknown soldier, to symbolically honour the common memories of all soldiers killed in any war. The tomb is the final burial place of a real soldier, who died on the battlefield and who could not be identified.
Nothing is known of his name, rank or age and will never be known. Whether he was an officer or an infantryman is insignificant, as he is meant to represent all soldiers fatally wounded on the battlefield.
In Australia, the tomb contains the remains of an unknown Australian soldier, buried with a bayonet and a sprig of wattle, in a coffin made of Tasmanian blackwood. Soil from the Pozières battlefield is scattered in the tomb.
Earlier history of the unknown soldier is that his remains were recovered from Adelaide Cemetery near Villers-Bretonneux and transported to Australia in 1993. After lying in state in King’s Hall in Old Parliament House, Australia’s Unknown Soldier was interred on Remembrance Day, 11th November 1993 in the Hall of Memory at the Australian War Memorial.
The ANZAC Day Commemoration Committee describes the Spirit of ANZAC as “an intangible thing”. They say it is frequently used to describe particular actions by and qualities of people. It is said to be a cornerstone which underpins the Australian image and life, and is an integral part of the Australian heritage.
Today, the ANZAC spirit refers to invincibility, loyalty, patriotism, freedom, courage, mateship and determination to be better. It is associated with the almost superhuman strength exhibited on the shores of Gallipoli back in 1915, and the intense gratitude and pride we feel for the soldiers’ heroism, even in the face of near certain death.
Since way back in ancient times, rosemary has been said to improve the memory. On a day that is all about remembering those who fell and gave their lives for our freedom, it’s fitting that we wear a sprig of rosemary.
The RSL and Legacy hand out the fresh sprigs. It is also significant because it grows wild on the Gallipoli peninsula.
At all ANZAC Day (and Remembrance Day – held on 11 November) services, a lone bugler will play The Last Post, a call that signifies the end of the day’s activities. It is also played at military funerals to signify that the soldier has gone to his final rest. The service will usually also include the bugler playing the Rouse. A shorter bugle call, the Rouse was used to call soldiers to their duties.
On ANZAC Day, it is sounded after the one-minute silence, while flags are raised from half-mast to the masthead.
On the 25th April every year, it is every Australian’s duty (whether they were born overseas or their family have been here for generations) to uphold the memory of the original ANZACs who died on those Turkish shores all those years ago.
As the years have passed, the old Diggers too have passed on, but the legacy they have left behind is one of freedom and perpetual hope for the future. Now, we celebrate their lives and also respect and honour those currently serving, or who have returned from their service responsibilities.
ANZAC Day is the proud heritage of Australia and New Zealand’s commitment to peace, security and a safe future.