On April 25th, Australia will commemorate Anzac Day 2021, which is perhaps the country’s most popular national holiday. It marks the first major military battle waged by Australian and New Zealand forces during World War One.
Anzac Day was first observed on October 13, 1915, in Adelaide, as a substitute for the Eight-Hour Day holiday (a forerunner of Labour Day and already a public holiday). This was more of a patriotic carnival than a solemn commemoration, intending to raise awareness and funds for the war effort.
Anzac Day, as we know it today, was first seen on April 25, 1916, when people came together to remember those who died in the Gallipoli campaign. Few state governments in Australia held commemorative ceremonies, but the Commonwealth did not, apart from renaming the day Anzac Day.
The commemoration had become a national holiday in every state and territory by the late 1920s. In the 1930s, there was a lot of discussion about how important it was to pass on the “Anzac spirit” to the next generation. This was partially political, as there was a sense that people wanted to be prepared for another war. The ‘sons of the Anzacs’ were accepted during WWII, and the day now honours veterans of all wars. Despite the increased number of veterans, Anzac Day’s popularity had waned by the 1960s, and many wondered whether it would endure.
The revival began in the 1980s and 1990s. The RSL had been slow to accept “others,” especially those who had not served overseas, such as most ex-servicewomen and veterans of “small” wars. It has relaxed the rules to be more inclusive, thanks to younger leadership. Governments also emphasised the importance of the day through commemorative activities that reach out to the public.
The Anzac Day electronic encyclopaedia entry at the Australian War Memorial (AWM) provides links to information about the past and tradition of Anzac Day, as well as descriptions and photos of ceremonies, sound recordings of the Last Post and the Rouse, and educational tools.
The Dawn Service
The Dawn Service, which begins at 4.30 a.m., is the first commemorative occurrence of Anzac Day. This is about the time the ANZAC troops arrived on the Gallipoli beach. The root, however, is the conventional ‘stand-to,’ in which troops will be awoken so that they could be in place and ready by the first rays of dawn, in case of an enemy assault in the eerie half-light. Many veterans recall it as a routine and a special moment.
The first Dawn Service has sparked some debate. Early morning services, such as the one held in 1923 in Albany, Western Australia, by the Reverend Arthur White—Rector of St John’s Church and a former padre with the 44th Battalion on the Western Front—were the forerunners of the new tradition.
In 1928, Sydney’s Cenotaph hosted the first formal Dawn Service. Veterans gathered before dawn for a simple ritual that included a “stand-to” and two minutes of silence.
The Gunfire Breakfast
Many cultures have a ‘traditional’ gunfire breakfast after the dawn service. The custom of ‘gunfire’ originated in the United Kingdom and was the customary term for the early morning cup of tea served to troops before their first parade, if possible. During World War I, recruits in training were often given ‘Gun Fire,’ with the work before breakfast being especially difficult. The name was suggested by the morning gun in a garrison town.
The ‘gunfire breakfast’ seems to have originated from the previous and consists of whatever is available at the time—it may be ‘coffee and rum,’ ‘stew, sausage, and toast,’ or even ‘bacon and eggs,’ as served by the War Memorial on Anzac Day in Australia.
The March has long been the focal point of Anzac Day celebrations in Australia, from large cities to small towns. Marches were held during WWI and became common among veterans in the 1920s to remember fallen comrades and publicly show comradeship. The marches are coordinated by the RSL.
Although it was initially reserved for active-duty veterans, it was later extended to include those who served in Australia’s armed forces or “ground armies” during WWII.
It has been further relaxed, with some support or recognition of children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren marching to aid or represent elderly veterans. Former allied army soldiers have now been approved to march.
The poem For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon, an English poet and writer, contains the fourth stanza of the Ode. It was first published in The Winnowing Fan: Poems of the Great War, a book of poems published in London in 1914. By 1921, it was being used in connection with commemorative services in Australia.
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.
Another Way to Commemorate Anzac Day 2021
As a way to remember and honour the anniversary of the first key military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War, Wagbet proudly presents our song about patriotism, “O’l Digger Ben.”
The song is for all the old diggers in every Australian’s life. Every war veteran, whether they are your father, grandfather, uncle, teacher, neighbour, or just someone you know and respect, deserves nothing but the highest praise and admiration. They are the ones who truly understand what it means to be an Australian.
Now that you know what to expect from the celebration, are you ready to commemorate Anzac Day 2021? Be sure to check our website and listen to our song for our heroes.