Anzac Day’s observance on 25 April commemorates the landing of the ANZAC forces at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. Originally planned as a strike to knock Turkey out of the war, the Turkish forces commanded by Mustafa Kemal (later Attaturk), proved stronger and more resourceful than anticipated, with the result that the offensive quickly became a stalemate. The campaign dragged on for eight months until the Allied forces were evacuated at the end of 1915. Both sides had suffered heavy casualties, with over 8,000 Australian and 2,700 New Zealand soldiers killed.
From the outset the landings at Gallipoli grabbed the attention and imagination of the public in Australia and New Zealand. When the first news of the landing reached New Zealand on 30 April, 1915, a half-day holiday was declared and impromptu services were held. The day became known as Anzac Day well before 25 April was officially designated Anzac Day in 1916. Proposals to officially designate that date as Anzac Day originated in Queensland and were quickly taken up by the other States. The Returned Services Association of New South Wale raised funds for an ANZAC Day Memorial, and the Queensland Department of Public Instruction published a text for students entitled ‘ANZAC Day’.
Returned Services Association of New South Wales brochure 1916 and the Queensland ‘Anzac Day’ textbook.
(Click on images to enlarge)
The official designation of 25 April as Anzac Day in 1916 was widely observed, with commemorative services being held throughout the Commonwealth:
- In Moascar (Egypt) Lieutenant R W McHenry MC of the 2nd Field Artillery Brigade described the day:
A church parade was held this morning to commemorate the landing and the lads who fell on the Peninsula. Those who were at the landing wore a red ribbon and those who had seen service on the Peninsula were entitled thereby to a blue ribbon worn above the left breast pocket.
Observance at military locations and installations commonly consisted of solemn services, followed by sporting events and concerts.
- In London over 2,000 Australian and New Zealand troops marched through the streets of the city. A London newspaper headline dubbed them "The Knights of Gallipoli". The day was referred to in England as ‘The First Anniversary of the Landing at Gallipoli’ and, was commemorated with a memorial service held at Westminster Abbey. It was attended by King George V, Queen Mary, and General Sir (later Field Marshal Lord) William Birdwood, commander of the ANZAC forces at Gallipoli.
Australian 1st Division troops march through the London streets on the anniversary of the first Anzac Day. Big Ben and The Houses of Parliament can be seen in the left background.
- Marches were held all over Australia in 1916, often being used as a means of rallying enlistment and raising money:
- In Brisbane soldiers on horseback passed by the General Post Office festooned with flags, banners and a large sign with the words “Enlist Now”.
- In Sydney wounded soldiers from Gallipoli attended the march in convoys of cars, attended by nurses.
From a Sydney Morning Herald report: at::
- A commemoration was held in Sydney Town Hall. The programme cover for that for commemmoration of the first Anzac Day is reminiscent of Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People and New York’s Statue of Liberty:Behind the 4000 returned men who could march in Sydney's first Anzac Day in 1916 came 50 car loads of those who could not. … women rattled money tins, street urchins chased loose pennies and a big but subdued crowd watched as car after car rolled down Macquarie Street filled with maimed but smiling soldiers.
"There was pride in the faces of the men, and tears in the eyes of the women as the little groups went by; for in every group, almost, a man was to be seen without an arm, or with shattered features, or limping painfully with a stick," the Herald said. "Little parties of girls gathered at different points … and threw flowers over the passing soldiers. There was abundant evidence that the latter appreciated the attention."
Later hundreds of returned men were taken to recruiting stations throughout the city and suburbs. Each man had pledged to secure at least one new soldier.
"Many answered the call, but many still held back," the Herald said. "At one point a Gallipoli man with one arm missing failed in the task he had set himself - not a man responded. He was no orator; he relied on the arm that was missing. 'Australia was there!' he cried. 'Look at me. I have lost an arm and can fight no more, but I tell you what, boys - if I had my arm back I'd be over there again. Now I want someone to take my place - who will volunteer?'
"No one answered. The call was made in vain. Tears came into the soldier's eyes. 'No one?' he said. No one."
Note the female draped in the Australian flag, pleading with arms outstretched in a crucifixion pose, prone weary or wounded soldiers flanking her on a plinth bearing the Australian crest, the Gallipoli Peninsula in the background.
"Each has won a glorious grave - not that sepulchre of earth wherein they lie, but the living tomb of everlasting remembrance wherein their glory is enshrined. For the whole earth is the sepulchre of heroes. Monuments may rise and tablets be set up to them in their own land, but on far-off shores there is an abiding memorial that no pen or chisel has traced; it is graven not on stone or brass, but on the living hearts of humanity.
Take these men for your example. Like them, remember that prosperity can be only for the free, that freedom is the sure possession of those alone who have the courage to defend it."
- Pericles (495-429 C)