What Is ANZAC Day All About?

By | April 25, 2017

If you are either an Australian or a New Zealander then you will be fully aware as to this special day in the history of these two countries. ANZAC Day is an occasion for all Australians and New Zealanders to remember all who have served and who have died in wars and conflicts and also peacekeeping operations. It is a time to remember the people who have contributed and suffered as well.


This national day of remembrance occurs on April 25th each year. It was originally meant to honor the members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) that fought at Gallipoli in Turkey. It has since been an occasion where any soldier involved in conflicts or peacekeeping operations are remembered.

During the Gallipoli Campaign the ANZACs fought for nine long months against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War from April 25th 1915 to January 6th 1916.

The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps lost 11,410 men during the campaign. As a result this day marks the first campaign that led to major casualties for both countries.

Besides Australia and New Zealand this day is commemorated in the southern Pacific island countries consisting of Cook Islands, Niue, Pitcairn Islands and Tonga. At one time this day was commemorated in Papua New Guinea and Samoa.

Special Date:

ANZAC Day – April 25th

Credit:   Ancestry AU

The Gallipoli Campaign

The ANZACs, together with other Allied forces, wanted to capture Gallipoli so that they could create a clear path through the Dardanelles Strait out to the Black Sea for the Allied navies. They wanted to do this so that the ANZACs and the British had a route to the allies, the Russian Empire.

Gallipoli Campaign

In order to do this the Allied forces would have to capture the capital city Constantinople. At this time the Ottoman Empire were an ally of Germany during the First World War.

The ANZACs landed on the Gallipoli peninsula on April 25th and had expected a quick victory. However, they were met with strong resistance from the Ottoman Empire and were forced into a stalemate that lasted for nine months.

As a result of the heavy losses that the ANZACs and the British incurred they were forced to evacuate the peninsula at the end of 1915. While Australia and New Zealand had lost 11,410 men the British Army had lost 21,255.

The ANZACs did not achieve their dual objectives of capturing Constantinople and knocking the Ottoman Empire out of the war. However, they did create what is known as the “ANZAC Legend“. To this day it is an important part of the national identity for Australia and New Zealand.

When was the first ANZAC Day?

Just five days after the failed assault on Gallipoli a half-day holiday was declared on April 30th 1915. Impromptu services were also held to remember the men who had died during the first few days of this bloody conflict.

The state of South Australia was the first to build a memorial for those who were killed during this campaign. It was unveiled on September 7th, which on that date was also Wattle Day.

This day is a national day of celebration for Australia and is now marked on the first day of September, (the first day of spring). For this reason Australians wear a sprig of the flower and its leaves to commemorate this day.

The following month on October 13th 1915 South Australia renamed its Eight Hour Day, (Labour Day), to ANZAC Day. The state organized a carnival and the proceeds of this event were given to a fund set up for the wounded soldiers of the First World War.

The first official ANZAC Day began in 1916!

The one year anniversary of the failed capture of Gallipoli occurred on April 25th 1916. There were many ceremonies and services held throughout the countries of Australia and New Zealand. Besides ANZACs being remembered in these respective countries there was also a commemorative march through London by these soldiers.

Canakkale Battle

Soldiers one year from the death of their comrades also remembered the fallen, as evidenced by entries written in diaries on this day. These entries by the soldiers show that there attended a dawn mass which was followed by a mid-morning commemorative service. Following lunch activities were laid out and any money raised from these were given to the Battalion funds.

After the First World War had ended New Zealand made ANZAC Day a public holiday in 1920. This was followed up the Australian government the following year. However, not all states did initially observe this occasion with a holiday.

Although not a public holiday for Australians during the first part of the 1920s, April 25th was a day for people to remember the 60,000 and 18,000 New Zealanders who died during the war.

1927 became the first year that this day was marked by a national holiday. The following decade saw the format of this day set out to start with a dawn service, marches and memorial services, together with reunions and games.

In particular the popular Australian Two-up gambling game was played on this day. New Zealand quickly adopted the format for this day, first beginning in 1939.

What Happens on ANZAC Day?

This day is first marked with a dawn service, a tradition that has its origin in military routine. The reason that this time of day was chosen was because it was ideal for soldiers to perform an attack on their enemy. As the first rays of the sun crept through the morning sky the ANZACs were alert and ready to man their weapons and fight.

Dawn Service ANZAC Day

Returning soldiers from the war wanted to seek solace and so the best time for this was at dawn before the sun rose. These few moments before dawn were both quiet and peaceful for them.

These dawn services start with hymns and prayers, followed by laying wreaths and then the playing of the Last Post. A minute silence is then observed, Reveille and then the national anthems of both Australia and New Zealand are then played.

Families attend the graves of the fallen and those who survived the war. Many Australians and New Zealanders make their way to Gallipoli so that they can visit where the soldiers lost their lives. They then lay red poppies at their graves as they remember their ancestors.

In Australia it is custom to wear a sprig of rosemary on lapels, where as in New Zealand it is common to where a poppy.

Final Thoughts

Any day that makes us remember our ancestors is important to me. In particular it doesn’t really matter that my ancestors did not fight in this conflict. What matters is that these soldiers died in this war so that Australians, New Zealanders and the rest of the world could live in a free society.

So no matter if you have no connection to these countries I believe that you should remember the lives of the fallen and the sacrifices that they made. Although they did not achieve their objective they are still regarded as heroes and they should make us proud for what they fought for.

Thank You and Please Leave A Comment

I hope you enjoyed this post giving you a guide as to what ANZAC Day is all about. If you think that this post will be helpful to others then please share it with friends and family using the social media buttons below.

If you have any questions or comments then please leave a comment below. I would love to hear from you.

Author: Owain

Hello, Owain here. After researching my family history for a number of years I wanted to give back to the genealogy world. So here you will find guides, tips and product reviews that will help you on your genealogy journey.

8 thoughts on “What Is ANZAC Day All About?

  1. rebecca cosmidou

    Another great history lesson from you, Owain! I haven’t even heard the ANZAC day and the history behind it before! There are so many things that we do not know about other countries and it’s history! It is good to learn something new and your site gives me a chance to do so every time I visit it!
    Best wishes,

    1. Owain Post author

      Thank you very much for your comments Rebecca. I feel the same way. I like learning about history and it doesn’t matter if it’s not about my own country.

      It doesn’t matter if I have or haven’t heard about these special days I still soak up all the information.

  2. Mark Perkins

    What a great article.
    Even though my father was involved in the Battle of Britain in England, I have lived in New Zealand for 56 years and consider myself a Kiwi.

    Like Australia, it is great to see so many young people turning out for ANZAC day dawn parades.

    Owain assume you are an Australian, have you had the opportunity to travel to Wellington, New Zealand, and visit Te Papa, The National Museum of New Zealand and the Gallipoli exhibition?

    I presume and hope, it will make its way to Australia.
    Thank you for this.

    1. Owain Post author

      It is great indeed that young people are turning out to remember the fallen. After all it is a part of their history and not only should they know about it but understand that the sacrifices that they made has affected them, i.e. living in a democratic country.

      That sounds interesting to visit the Gallipoli exhibition. One day I would like to travel to New Zealand and visit there.

  3. Wilson

    Owain, Thanks for your post….now I know what Anzac day is all about! You have given so much detail here that I was just not aware of.

    It’s true that anyone involved in war should be remembered, and no matter whether you do or do not have any connection with them at all.

    Thank you again for your post. I look forward to looking through your site and seeing what else of interest that I can find.

    1. Owain Post author

      Thank you Wilson for your kind comments. That is true about commemorating the fallen, the wounded and anyone who was or has been involved in any conflict. They should all be remembered for the sacrifices they made and what they accomplished.

  4. Vince

    Great to see the ANZACs have been heard about all around the world.
    Its an important day to us in Australia. We all band together, young and old, to remember the ones that were lost.

    It was very amazing that even though every April 25th we remember what happen at Gallipolli, we also remember all those who fought at war. Even my Italian grandfather use to march with his Aussie mates and they also shared the memories of his Italian friends lost in war at Germany WWII.

    Thanks for sharing this Owain.

    1. Owain Post author

      ANZAC Day is a lot like Memorial Day. It was intended to commemorate all who were affected by the American Civil War of 1861 to 1865. However, now it is a day to remember anyone who has been killed or wounded in any war or conflict.

      I feel that that these days should be recognized and everyone should remember their countrymen and women. And also their ancestors who if not fought in a war they would surely have been affected by it.


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