ANZAC Day

Australia and New Zealand celebrate the ANZAC Day public holiday on the 25th of April every year to honour the bravery and sacrifice of the members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC), and of all who served their country in time of war.

The Anzac tradition began during World War I with a landing in 1915 at Gallipoli on the Turkish Aegean coast. Because of a navigational error, the Anzacs came ashore about a mile north of the intended landing point. Instead of facing the expected beach and gentle slope they found themselves at the bottom of steep cliffs, offering the few Turkish defenders an ideal defensive position. Establishing a foothold, the Anzacs found an advance to be impossible. After 8 months of stalemate, the Allies withdrew, leaving 10,000 dead amongst the Anzacs.

Although numerically the ANZAC were a minority of the half-million allied men who served at Gallipoli, the troops from the two young nations were often at the vanguard and became renowned for their doggedness despite what the British regarded as a lack of discipline. A full 10% of the New Zealand population (then just under 1 million) served overseas during World War I, and New Zealand had the highest casualty and death rate per capita of any country involved in the war.

In Australia, Anzac Day Commemoration features solemn "dawn services" at war memorials around the country accompanied by thoughts of those lost at war to the ceremonial sounds of the bugle. Marches by veterans from all past wars are held in capital cities and towns nationwide. These are followed generally by events hosted by the RSL, often including a traditional Australian gambling game called "two-up", which was an extremely popular pastime with ANZAC soldiers.

The Vietnam War in the 1970s, with conscription and other unpleasantnesses, saw some of the population reluctant to participate in war-related events such as Anzac Day due to the controversy of Australia's contribution to the Vietnam War.

New Zealand's celebration of ANZAC Day is similar, though on several occasions the day has become an opportunity for some groups for political protest. In 1967, two members of the left-wing Progressive Youth Movement in Christchurch staged a minor protest at the Anzac Ceremony, laying a wreath protesting against the Vietnam War. They were subsequently convicted of disorderly conduct, but that was far from the last time that the parade was used as a vehicle for protest. In 1978 a women's group laid a wreath dedicated to all the women killed and raped during war, and at various times during the 1980s movements for feminism, homosexuality, anti-nuclear war/peace used this commemorative day to reflect on some of their own personal strivings for human rights.

In 1990, to mark the 75th Anniversary of the Gallipoli landing, government officials from Australia and New Zealand, most of the last surviving Gallipoli veterans, and many Australian and New Zealand tourists travelled to Turkey for a special Dawn service at Gallipoli. The service at dawn in Gallipoli has since become popular to attend on ANZAC day. Upwards of 10,000 people have attended services in Gallipoli upholding their patriotic beliefs.

The last known Gallipoli veteran, Alec Campbell, died in May 2002.




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