The history of ANZAC Day

The Spirit of ANZAC is an intangible thing. It is unseen, unpredictable, an unquenchable thirst for justice, freedom and peace.

The conflict that shaped a nation

“ANZAC” was the name given to a combined force of First Australian Imperial Force and New Zealand Army troops who landed on Turkey’s Gallipoli Peninsula at around dawn on Sunday, the 25th of April, 1915, barely nine months after the outbreak of World War I.

“A single word so powerful in the Australian vocabulary that it can bring a tear to the eye, a lump in the throat and a feeling of pride, just to be an Australian. A word that brings to mind those other words so uniquely Australian that had their origin in the trenches of Gallipoli in 1915.” – Cobber, Digger, Fair Dinkum, True Blue, Mate.

Thirteen years after Australia’s Federation, their efforts in the Great War would unite our country more than any event had done before then. They had not been conscripted to join the campaign, they were all fair dinkum volunteers eager to show how brave and strong they were in battle. They had come to help their mother country England in their war against Germany. They wanted to be involved in all the ‘excitement’, to travel and be with their mates.

Little did they realise the hardships and suffering that lay ahead, for they had been landed at the wrong place and the Turkish army were prepared for them.

2,000 ANZACs would die that first day on the beaches of Gallipoli, more than 6,500 would be killed or wounded by the end of the week in the trenches, gullies and ridges up to one kilometre inland. Eight long months of bitter fighting against the Turks would follow.

10,000 ANZACs would not return home to their loved ones.

Although their Gallipoli campaign would not result in victory over the Turks, the remarkable bravery and courage shown by the ANZACs during that time would long be remembered.

Stories such as their fierce attack at Lone Pine where they fought their way through the logs and mud into the Turkish trenches and battled the Turks with their bare hands, and reports of the terrible attack at the Nek where wave upon wave of ANZACs charged the Turkish lines to their certain death, would be told for generations to come.

The courage of a stretcher bearer named Simpson who, with his donkey, risked bombs and bullets week after week to carry the wounded to safety only to finally lose his own life on the beach of ANZAC Cove, will never be forgotten.

Against all odds, the ANZACs had shown they were a force to be reckoned with. Their Aussie sense of humour while facing death daily and their bonds of mateship would later inspire not only Australians but people from all over the world.

All these stories, together with the reports of the terrible losses were being printed in the newspapers back home in Australia. After reading such horrors, why then did 36,000 men volunteer to join the war effort?

The spirit of the ANZACs had touched the hearts and minds of all Australians. Win or lose, they wanted to be with their mates. They couldn’t stay home and do nothing after their mates had given so much.

Their country needed them and they wanted to stand up and be counted. The true spirit of the ANZACs – a willingness to sacrifice their lives for their country, their pride and their mates.

This spirit would carry them through the Great War – their battles at Gallipoli, along the Western Front, at places such as Ypres, Fromelles, the Somme and Pozieres and in the Middle East and Beersheeba.

The ANZACs would remember their mates in Gallipoli.

They would not let them down, they would fight on until the war was won. Between 1915 and 1919 the ANZACs would be awarded 66 Victoria Crosses, the highest award for war-time bravery.

Galvanised by the example of courage and sacrifice demonstrated on that bloody battlefield, on the 10th day of January 1916 a public meeting of Brisbane citizens voted unanimously to establish the ANZAC Day Commemoration Committee to lay the groundwork for a nationwide, solemn day of public remembrance on the first anniversary of the landings.

Anzac Day 2017. Image by Ross Swanborough.
Anzac Day 2017. Image by Ross Swanborough.

The calibre of the first ANZACs set the standard for all Australian servicemen in their subsequent war efforts, in World War II, Korea and in Vietnam, and the ANZAC spirit has carried on through the decades.

Traditionally, the 25th of April is set aside as a public holiday for Australians to remember the bravery of the men and women who fought in war. On this day, ANZAC Day, all over the country, in the cities and towns, no matter how small, Australians gather together at ANZAC memorials to honour those who gave their lives for our country.

Returned servicemen reunite on this day to march together as they did so long ago, to perhaps share a beer and talk of their memories, and to remember the mates they left behind.

On this special day, family and friends gather together to pay tribute to the ANZACs for their courage and sacrifice during their time of war. Many go to a dawn or ANZAC service. Many watch the war veterans march down the streets with medals polished. They sing with pride our national anthem and songs of remembrance, listen to the symbolic trumpet playing the Last Post and bow their heads for one minute’s silence wherever they may be.

They may watch the parade on television or one of the many movies or documentaries dedicated to their brave ANZACs. From dawn until dusk one day every year is given to the memory of the ANZACs, to think of them with gratitude and pride.

The spirit of the ANZAC continues today in times of hardship such as cyclones, floods and bush fires. At those times Australians come together to rescue one another, to ease suffering, to provide food and shelter, to look after one another, and to let the victims of these disasters know they are not alone.

“I’d rather be killed than leave them there to die”, said one ANZAC after he had risked his life to rescue a wounded mate from the battlefield and lowered him back into the Australians’ trench at Gallipoli. That spirit lives on in many Australians today.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.