Anzac Day is held each year on 25 April, marking the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand troops in WWI. It is one of Australia’s most important national occasions.
Anzac Day recognises the day Australian and New Zealand forces landed on the beaches at Gallipoli in Turkey as part of the Commonwealth expedition seeking to capture the peninsula. The objective was to open the Dardanelles, which would allow Allied forces to capture Constantinople (modern day Istanbul), the capital of the Ottoman Empire, and ultimately remove them from the war.
Upon landing on Gallipoli, troops were met with unrelenting resistance from the Turkish forces. Initially planned to be a bold and quick manoeuvre, the storming of Gallipoli soon became a stalemate, with the campaign dragging on for eight months. At the end of 1915, after a long and arduous effort, the Allied forces were evacuated from the peninsula.
Both Australian and New Zealand forces suffered heavy losses at Gallipoli. For a young nation of fewer than five million people, this was a significant loss.
The devastation of Gallipoli was felt back home all throughout Australia. Despite the failure of the campaign, the actions and bravery of the Australian and New Zealand forces did not go unnoticed, and the ‘Anzac legend’ was born.
25 April soon became the day on which Australians remembered the sacrifices of those who gave their lives throughout the war. The first Anzac Day commemorations were held in 1916, with various services and ceremonies held across Australia, as well as a march through London and a sports day in the Australian camp in Egypt. More than 2,000 Australian and New Zealand troops took to the streets of London to march, whilst convoys of cars carried soldiers wounded on Gallipoli through the streets of Sydney.
During the 1920s Anzac Day was established as a national day of commemoration and remembrance, honouring the more than 60,000 Australians who had died during WWI. In 1927, every state observed a public holiday on Anzac Day for the first time.
By the mid 1930s, dawn vigils, marches, memorial services, reunions and Two-Up had become a firm part of Anzac Day culture, something which continues to this day. Anzac Day later served to commemorate the lives of those lost during WWII. The meaning of the day has steadily expanded to recognise those who have lost their lives serving in all military and peacekeeping operations. Today, commemorative services are held across the nation at Dawn, to mark the time of the original landing at Gallipoli, with veteran marches held throughout the day.
The Anzac legend has come to exemplify the ideals of courage, endurance and mateship shown by the Australian and New Zealand troops who landed at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. Those men created a legend and a spirit that is not only remembered each Anzac Day but is also at the heart of Australian culture and identity.