April 25 might seem like a regular day to the rest of the world, but to Aussies and Kiwis, this day is rooted deep in their culture. Anzac Day (a term many people have heard but might not know) and it’s considered to be one of the most important national calendar days. Now in its hundredth year, was born to commemorate the Australians and New Zealand Army Corps who bravely fought in the Gallipoli Campaign during the Great War. Today, Anzac Day commemorates the lives that were lost during all conflicts and wars. So in honor of this occasion, let’s take a moment to reflect on the history, the legacy and traditions of Anzac Day.
One hundred years ago, Australia and New Zealand changed forever
When the Great War (WWI) broke out in 1914, Europe was divided into two camps. On the one side you had the Central Powers composed of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire. On the other were the Allied Forces made up of countries like the United Kingdom, France, and Russia. Other nations began to make their way into the Allied Forces, due to treaties or previous ties. Australia and New Zealand, both dominions of the British Commonwealth, soon found themselves overseas to assist the Allies.
In 1915, Anzac troops were shipped over seas in hopes to complete one of their first mission’s: gain control of the Ottoman Empire by capturing the Gallipoli Peninsula so that Allied ships could pass through the Dardanelles Straights. Unfortunately, what was supposed to be a quick takeover turned into an eight-month standoff between Anzac troops and the Ottoman Army. When news made its way to home soil, the nations mourned the loss of those brave men who lost their lives (estimated over 10,000), and April 25, became the day to commemorate the sacrifices of those who fought. A hundred years later, the memories, stories, and the Anzac Legend still burn bright.
Simpson and his donkey: A tale of the Anzac spirit
Anzac Day is also a time to reflect on the service men and women who helped inspire the Anzac spirit: a set of characteristics which the Anzac troops encompassed, like compassion, loyalty, camaraderie, selflessness, and courage. These values are so important that they have become part of Australia and New Zealand’s cultural DNA.
There is one story in particular that has been passed down in schools, conversations, newspapers and even the Australian War Memorial: the legend of Simpson and his donkey. John Simpson Kirkpatrick, a stretcher-bearer, worked with the Australian Army during the Gallipoli Campaign. When Anzac troops landed on Gallipoli and were ambushed, many soldiers were wounded. It is rumored that the next day, Simpson found a donkey and made his way to the wounded soldiers and began carrying them back to the beach so their wounds could be dressed and later shipped out to safety. He did this over three weeks until he was killed. His memory is honoured today with a statue of him and his donkey at the Australian War Memorial.
How we remember today
The first officially Anzac Day took place on April 25, 1916 with ceremonies in both Australia and New Zealand. There was also a march that took place in London with over 2,000 Anzac soldiers. Now one hundred years later, Anzac Day has become a national holiday (and to some the most important day of the year). Traditions may vary from place to place, person to person, but below are just some of the ways the nations remember.
Service at dawn
The Dawn Service is believed to have been birthed from military tradition. At dawn, soldiers were woken from their slumber and expected to stand guard. Today, the Australian Army recognizes this tradition and hosts a simple service. A minute of silence is held and hymns, readings, and military traditions are also acted out as the sun rises in the distance.
Considered the main event, the National Ceremony is held at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, where dignitaries such as the Prime Minister and Governor General come to pay their respects. The ceremony is held every year at exactly 10:15, when the “Last Post” is played on bugle, followed by a moment of silence, and finally the laying of red poppies and wreaths are placed upon the tomb of the unknown Australian soldier.
A day of sport: The Anzac Day Clash
The Anzac Day Clash, the annual Australian-rules football match takes place between Collingwood and Essendon. This fairly new tradition began in 1995, when Kevin Sheedy (a former military man turned AFL coach) thought it would be a kind tribute to those who served in the military. You might find it odd that a game of football would be used to honour the fallen soldiers, but the game is believed to showcase the qualities of the Anzac spirit like courage and camaraderie. An Anzac Day medal is also presented to the player who showcases these qualities the best. Finally, Australian rules football is a sport that brings the nation together, as over 90,000 people attend the match while millions are glued to their TV.
A pilgrimage to where it all began
Turkey officially recognized Anzac Day in 1985, and now Gallipoli holds the second-largest commemoration outside of Australia. It is very common for Australians and Kiwis to venture to Gallipoli to pay their respects. However, this year is especially important as it is the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli Campaign. Many Kiwis and Aussies put their names in a national lottery in the hope of being selected to take part of the services in Turkey. As well, several dignitaries including the Presidents of Australia, New Zealand, and Turkey, as well as Prince Charles and Prince Harry will make the pilgrimage to Gallipoli to pay their respects to souls that lost their lives.
A final thought
There are some events that have the power to shape a nation. The mission to Gallipoli changed Australia and New Zealand forever. It tore them apart for a moment, but brought them even closer in the end. A hundred years later, there are still thousands of soldiers and their families who make the sacrifice to protect their country and are battling their own Gallipoli. So in honour of the service men and women who sacrifice so much, we salute you.
Lest we forget.