Anzac Day is commemorated for the first time in Australia and New Zealand on the first anniversary of the landing at ANZAC Cove.
Anzac Day is a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand that broadly commemorates all Australians and New Zealanders “who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations” and “the contribution and suffering of all those who have served”.
Observed on 25 April each year, Anzac Day was originally devised to honour the members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps who fought at Gallipoli against the Ottoman Empire during World War I. Anzac Day is also observed in the Cook Islands, Niue, Pitcairn Islands, and Tonga, and previously was a national holiday in Papua New Guinea and Samoa.
Anzac Day marks the anniversary of the first campaign that led to major casualties for Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War. The acronym ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, whose soldiers were known as Anzacs. Anzac Day remains one of the most important national occasions of both Australia and New Zealand.
The first commemoration occurred in Adelaide, South Australia. It was the site of Australia’s first built memorial to the Gallipoli landing, unveiled by Governor-General Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson on “Wattle Day”, 7 September 1915, just over four months after the first landings. The monument was originally the centrepiece of the Wattle Day League’s Gallipoli Memorial Wattle Grove, later known as “Wattle Grove”, on Sir Lewis Cohen Avenue in the South Park Lands but in 1940 the Adelaide City Council moved the monument and its surrounding pergola to Lundie Garden, a lawned area off South Terrace near the junction with Anzac Highway. The original native pines and remnant seedlings of the original wattles still grow in “Wattle Grove”. Also in South Australia, Eight Hour Day, 13 October 1915, was renamed “Anzac Day” and a carnival was organised to raise money for the Wounded Soldiers Fund.
The date 25 April was officially named Anzac Day in 1916; in that year it was marked by a wide variety of ceremonies and services in Australia and New Zealand, including a commemorative march through London involving Australian and New Zealand troops. In New Zealand it was gazetted as a half-day holiday. Australian Great War battalion and brigade war diaries show that on this first anniversary, units including those on the front line, made efforts to solemnise the memory of those who were killed this day twelve months previously. A common format found in the war diaries by Australian and New Zealand soldiers for the day commenced with a dawn requiem mass, followed mid-morning with a commemorative service, and after lunch organised sports activities with the proceeds of any gambling going to Battalion funds. This occurred in Egypt as well.
In Queensland on 10 January 1916 Canon David John Garland was appointed the honorary secretary of the Anzac Day Commemoration Committee of Queensland at a public meeting which endorsed 25 April as be the date promoted as “Anzac Day” in 1916 and ever after. Devoted to the cause of a non-denominational commemoration that could be attended by the whole of Australian society, Garland worked amicably across all denominational divides, creating the framework for Anzac Day commemorative services. Garland is specifically credited with initiating the Anzac Day march, the wreath-laying ceremonies at memorials and the special church services, the two minutes silence, and the luncheon for returned soldiers. Garland intended the silence was used in lieu of a prayer to allow the Anzac Day service to be universally attended, allowing attendees to make a silent prayer or remembrance in accordance with their own beliefs. He particularly feared that the universality of the ceremony would fall victim to religious sectarian disputes.
In London, in the same year, over 2,000 Australian and New Zealand troops marched through the streets of the city. A London newspaper headline dubbed them “The Knights of Gallipoli”. Marches were held all over Australia in 1916; wounded soldiers from Gallipoli attended the Sydney march in convoys of cars, accompanied by nurses. Over 2,000 people attended the service in Rotorua. For the remaining years of the war, Anzac Day was used as an occasion for patriotic rallies and recruiting campaigns, and marches of serving members of the AIF were held in most cities. From 1916 onwards, in both Australia and New Zealand, Anzac memorials were held on or about 25 April, mainly organised by returned servicemen and school children in cooperation with local authorities.
Flags on the cenotaph in Wellington for the 2007 Dawn March. From left to right, the flags of New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Australia
Anzac Day was gazetted as a public holiday in New Zealand in 1920, through the Anzac Day Act, after lobbying by the New Zealand Returned Soldiers’ Association, the RSA. In Australia at the 1921 State Premiers’ Conference, it was decided that Anzac Day would be observed on 25 April each year. However, it was not observed uniformly in all the states.