Anzac Day History

What is Anzac Day?
Anzac Day – 25 April – is probably Australia’s most important national occasion. It marks the anniversary of the first nationally significant military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during WW1. 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 this day so special to Australians?
When war broke out in 1914 Australia had been a federal commonwealth for only 13 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 April 25, 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. News of the landing at Gallipoli made a profound impact on Australians at home and April 25 quickly became the day on which Australians remembered the sacrifice of those who had died in war.

What does it mean today?
Australians recognise April 25 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 war memorials around the country. It is a day when Australians reflect on the many different meanings of war.

London 1916 – Anzac march
More than 2000 Australian and New Zealand troops stationed in London marched through the streets of the city on 25 April 1916. A London newspaper headline dubbed them “The knights of Gallipoli”. The idea that some sort of “blood sacrifice” 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. Other Australian troops were training in Egypt. They too celebrated the anniversary of the landing, in which some had taken part, with a mixture of solemnity and exuberance. Marches were held all over Australia in 1916. Wounded soldiers from Gallipoli attended the Sydney march in convoys of cars, attended by nurses.

Features of an Anzac Ceremony
Each year the commemorations follow a pattern that is familiar to each generation of Australians. For the benefit of young people and those from other cultures, some aspects warrant a few words of explanation.

Laying of wreaths
Flowers have traditionally been laid on graves and memorials in memory of the dead. Laurel and rosemary have been associated with Anzac Day. Laurel was used as a symbol of honour, woven into a wreath by the ancient Romans to crown victors and the brave. Rosemary is commonly associated with remembrance but in recent years, the poppy, formerly associated with Remembrance Day (November 11), has become very popular in wreaths used on Anzac Day.

Wreaths of poppies
An early use of the poppy on Anzac Day was in 1940 in Palestine (now Israel), where it grows in profusion in the spring. At the dawn service each solider dropped a poppy as he filed past the Stone of Remembrance. A senior Australian officer also a laid a wreath of poppies that had been picked from the hillside of Mt Scopus.

The Recitation during the Commemorative Services
In most ceremonies of remembrance there is a reading of an appropriate poem. One traditional recitation on Anzac Day is the fourth stanza of the poem “For the Fallen” by Laurence Binyon. It was first published in the Times (London) in 1914 and later in many anthologies of war verse. Its use on Anzac Day may have originated with the Queensland Anzac Day Commemoration Committee, which placed it on the cover of a collection of sermons and addresses for Anzac Day published in 1921. It was also used at the laying of the Inauguration Stone of the Australian War Memorial in 1929. In Flanders fields by the Canadian officer J.M. McCrae is another popular recitation. McCrae was a professor of medicine at McGill University before the war. A gunner in the Boer War, he served as medical officer with the first Canadian contingent in WW1 and wrote this poem at the second battle of Ypres in 1915. It was published anonymously in Punch. The writer was wounded in May 1918 and died three days later.

Sounding Last Post
Last Post is the trumpet or bugle call sounded in barracks and other military installations at 10pm each night to mark the end of the day’s activities. It is also sounded at military funerals and commemorative services to indicate that the soldier’s day has drawn to a final close.

A Period of Silence
Silence for one or two minutes is included in the Anzac ceremony as assign of respect. It offers a time for reflection on the significance of the whole ceremony. Observation of the two minutes silence occurred at 9am in Adelaide,1916, on the first anniversary of the landing. Edward Honey, an Australian journalist living in London during the First World War, is credited with originating the idea. He published a letter in the Evening News of May 8, 1919 appealing for five minutes silence among the celebrations of the first anniversary of the Armistice (11 November).

Rouse and Reveille
Rouse After the one-minute silence, flags are raised from half-mast to the masthead as Rouse is sounded. Traditionally Rouse called soldiers’ spirits to arise, ready to fight for another day. Today it is associated with Last Post at all military funerals, and at services of dedication and remembrance.

Reveille In major ceremonies Last Post is normally followed by Rouse, except at the Dawn Service, when Reveille is played. Ordinarily, Reveille is played only as the first call of the day, while Rouse may be used at anytime. Historically, Reveille woke the soldier at dawn, and the name of the ceremony is mentioned in 16th-century books on war. Until 100 years ago, Reveille was performed on drum and fife. Today a solo bugle or trumpet does the job.

The Ode
The Ode comes from “For the Fallen”, a poem by the English poet and writer Laurence Binyon and was first published in London in the Times newspaper in 1914. The verse, which became the League Ode was already used in association with commemoration services in Australia in 1921.

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children
England mourns for her dead across the sea,
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.
Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And glory that shines upon our tears.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow,
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
They mingle not with their laughing comrades again,
They sit no more at familiar tables of home,
They have no lot in our labour of the daytime,
They sleep beyond England’s foam.
But where our desires and hopes profound,
Felt as a wellspring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the night.
As the stars shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

The Dawn Service
The Dawn Service on Anzac Day has become a solemn Australian and New Zealand tradition. It is taken for granted as part of the Anzac ethos and few wonder how it all started. Its story, as it were, is buried in a small cemetery carved out of the bush some kilometres outside the northern Queensland town of Herberton. Almost paradoxically, one grave stands out by its simplicity. It is covered by a protective white-washed concrete slab with a plain cement cross at its top end. No epitaph recalls even the name of the deceased. The Inscription on the cross is a mere two words – A Priest. No person would identify the grave as that of a dedicated clergyman who created the Dawn Service, without the simple marker placed next to the grave only in recent times. It reads:”Adjacent to, and on the right of this marker, lies the grave of the late Reverend Arthur Ernest White, a Church of England clergyman and padre, 44 Bn, 1AIF.

On 25 April 1923, at Albany in Western Australia, the Reverend White led a party of friends in what was the first ever observance of a dawn parade on Anzac Day, thus establishing a tradition which has endured, Australia wide ever since.”Reverend White was serving as one of the padres of the earliest Anzacs to leave Australia with the 1AIF in November 1914. The convoy was assembled in the Princess Royal harbour and King George Sound at Albany, Western Australia. Before embarkation, at 4am, he conducted a service for all the men of the battalion. When White returned to Australia in 1919, he was appointed relieving Rector of the St John’s Church in Albany. It was a strange coincidence that the starting point of the AIF convoys should now become his parish. No doubt it must have been the memory of his first Dawn Service those many years earlier and his experiences overseas, combined with the awesome cost of lives and injuries, which inspired him to honour permanently the valiant men (both living and dead) who had joined the fight for the allied cause. “Albany”, he is quoted to have said, “was the last sight of land these Anzac troops saw after leaving Australian shores and some of them never returned. We should hold a service (here) at the first light of dawn each Anzac Day to commemorate them.”That is how on Anzac Day 1923 he came to hold the first Commemorative Dawn Service.

As the sun was rising, a man in a small dinghy cast a wreath into King George Sound while White, with a band of about 20 men gathered around him on the summit of nearby Mount Clarence, silently watched the wreath floating out to sea. He then quietly recited the words: “As the sun rises and goeth down, we will remember them”. All present were deeply moved and news of the ceremony soon spread throughout the country; and the various returned service communities Australia-wide emulated the ceremony. Eventually, White was transferred from Albany to serve other congregations, first in South Australia, then Broken Hill where he built a church, then later at Forbes NSW. In his retirement from parish life,he moved to Herberton where he became Chaplain of an Anglican convent, however, soon after his arrival (on September 26, 1954) he died, to be buried so modestly and anonymously as “A Priest”. White’s memory is honoured by a stained-glass window in the All Soul’s Church at Wirrinya, a small farming community near Forbes, NSW. Members of the parish have built the church with their own hands and have put up what they refer to as “The Dawn Service Window”, as their tribute to White’s service to Australia.


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