Anzac TokenANZAC Day – the 25th April – is probably Australia’s most important national occasion.  It marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War.

ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.  The soldiers in those forces quickly became known as ANZAC’s, and the pride they soon took in that name endures to this day.

Why is ANZAC Day so Special to Australians?

When war broke out in 1914 Australia had been a federal commonwealth for only fourteen years. The new national government was eager to establish its reputation among the nations of the world.
In 1915 Australian and New Zealand soldiers formed part of the allied expedition that set out to capture the Gallipoli peninsula to open the way to the Black Sea for the allied navies.  The plan was to capture Constantinople (now Istanbul), capital of the Ottoman Empire and an ally of Germany.  They landed at Gallipoli on the 25th April, meeting fierce resistance from the Turkish defenders.  What had been planned as a bold stroke to knock Turkey out of the war quickly became a stalemate, and the campaign dragged on for eight months.
At the end of 1915 the allied forces were evacuated after both sides had suffered heavy casualties and endured great hardships.  Over 8,000 Australian soldiers were killed. News of the landing at Gallipoli made a profound impact on Australians at home and the 25th April quickly became the day on which Australians remembered the sacrifice of those who had died in war.
The idea that some sort of “Blood Sacrafice” was a necessary rite of passage or initiation ceremony in the birth of a nation was common in the late Victorian and Edwardian period. In attempting the daunting task of storming the Gallipoli peninsula the ANZAC’s created an event which, it was felt, would help to shape the new Australia.
Early Commemorations The date, 25th April, was officially named ANZAC Day in 1916; in that year it was marked by a wide variety of ceremonies and services in Australia, a march through London, and a sports day in the Australian camp in Egypt.
ANZAC Day Commemoration 25 April 1916In London, over 2000 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, attended by nurses.  For the remaining years of the war, ANZAC Day was used as an occasion for patriotic rallies and recruiting campaigns, and parades of serving members of the Australian Imperial Forces ( AIF ) were held in most cities.
During the 1920s, ANZAC Day became established as a national day of commemoration for the 61,919 Australians who died during the war.  The first year in which all the States observed some form of public holiday together on ANZAC Day was 1927.
By the mid-1930s all the rituals we today associate with the day – dawn vigils, marches, memorial services, reunions, sly two-up games – were firmly established as part of ANZAC Day culture.  With the coming of the Second World War, ANZAC Day became a day on which to commemorate the lives of Australians lost in that war as well, and in subsequent years the meaning of the day has been further broadened to include Australians killed in all the military operations in which Australia has been involved.
ANZAC Day was first commemorated at the Australian War Memorial in 1942, but due to government orders preventing large public gatherings in case of Japanese air attack, it was a small affair and was neither a march nor a memorial service.  ANZAC Day has been annually commemorated at the Australian War Memorial ever since.
What Does ANZAC Day Mean Today?  Today Australians recognise the 25th April as an occasion of national commemoration.  Commemorative services are held at dawn, the time of the original landing, across the nation.  Later in the day ex-servicemen and women meet and join in marches through the major cities and many smaller centres. Commemorative ceremonies are held at most war memorials around the country.  It is a day when Australians reflect on the many different meanings of war.