Every year on the 25th of April, Australians celebrate ANZAC day.
It is the anniversary of the day when the Australian and New Zealand troops landed at Gallipoli Peninsula to battle the Turkish in 1915 and is traditionally our national day of recognition for Australian armed forces.
However, for a majority of younger Australians, ANZAC Day means little more than a public holiday. While schools are making more and more effort to teach and reinforce the importance of ANZAC day to our kids, there’s still a lot to learn. Why not show off your ANZAC day knowledge (or learn a few things you didn’t know) with these 25 interesting ANZAC day facts?
1. What’s In A Name
ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, and the term ANZAC is protected under Australian law. This means that the word cannot be misused, and permission to use it must come from the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs.
2. A Century For ANZACs
We are currently in the ANZAC Centenary period, which will be commemorated from 2014 to 2018, signifying 100 years since Australia became involved in the First World War.
3. Volunteers For Country
All of the ANZACs were volunteers. More than 400,000 men chose to enlist, which at the time was almost 40% of the male population between 18 and 44 years old.
4. The Date Stands
The reason that ANZAC day is commemorated on the 25th of April is because that was the day at Australian and New Zealand troops arrived on the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915.
5. Making It Official
ANZAC Day was officially named so in 1916, but there was no dawn service performed on ANZAC day until 1923.
6. The Public Holiday
ANZAC Day was not recognised as a public holiday in Australia or New Zealand until 1921. Even when it was decreed a public holiday in Australia, not all states acknowledged it.
7. Location, Location
The location where the ANZACS landed at Gallipoli was renamed to Anzac Cove.
Gallipoli is not the name of a town, rather it is the name of an area. When people travel to the Gallipoli area they usually stay in nearby towns to attend the dawn service, like the town of Ecubeat.
9. Minimum Training
The ANZAC troops who landed at Gallipoli had only trained for some four months before in Egypt.
10. The Nightmare Landing
Now enshrined in myth and legend, the ANZAC landing at Gallipoli was a nightmare. The landing beach was at the bottom of a steep hill, meaning ANZACs had to clamber up the hill under heavy Turkish fire. What many don’t know is that this landing was a mistake. They ANZACs had actually landed on the wrong beach.
11. Numbers Say It All
Despite only being in the Gallipoli area for 8 months, some 11,000 Australians died there and over 23,500 were wounded. They were only at Gallipoli for 8 months.
12. We Didn’t Win
When the ANZACs retreated in December of 1915, they hadn’t won. In fact the Gallipoli battle ended in a stalemate, with neither country able to gain ground.
13. The Dawn Service
Services for ANZAC Day are held at dawn because in a battle setting dawn is the best time to attack the enemy. Soldiers would wake up the the darkness and be ready to go as soon as it was light, so they were alert and the enemy was caught by surprise.
14. The Original Biscuit
The biscuit that we know as the ANZAC biscuit isn’t how it was originally. The original biscuit was known as an ANZAC wafer or tile and was given as rations to our soldiers during the First World War. In fact, the biscuit was also given instead of bread because it lasted longer.
15. The Modern ANZAC
Later, another version of the ANZAC biscuit was created by the wives of the soldiers. They wanted to bake something for their men as they fought that kept them going. To ensure they kept longer and didn’t spoil, the original recipe contained neither egg nor milk.
16. Rosemary For Bravery
A lot of people wear rosemary or a poppy on Anzac Day. The wearing of rosemary is a mark of respect for those who have not returned from war (not just Gallipoli) and is worn in memory of their bravery.
17. Floral Tributes
The poppy is also worn on both ANZAC day and Remembrance Day as a reminder of soldiers lost in battle and bloodshed. This symbol comes from John McCraw’s WWI poem entitled “In Flanders Fields”, but has been taken on as a reminder of the loss of veterans and soldiers in wars and after.
18. Dawn Bugles
The ‘Last Post’, played on the bugle, is a part of funeral and memorial services for veterans and soldiers as a final farewell. It is traditionally played to signal the ending of the day, and in a funeral or memorial symbolises that the duties of the dead have now finished and they are free to rest in peace.
19. Other ANZACS
ANZAC Day is also commemorated in Tonga, Samoa, Cook Islands and in the French towns of Longueval and Le Quesnoy, who all lost soldiers in the Gallipoli campaign.
20. England’s ANZAC Memory
Interestingly, ANZAC Day is also commemorated in a village in Middlesex called Harefield. In 1914, a millionaire and Sydney expat opened his manor home for injured Australian troops. He anticipated a small number would rest there, but the next year and after Gallipoli, it had become a hospital with 1,000 beds for Aussie soldiers. The manor, which became known as the Number 1 Australian Auxiliary Hospital, ended up having some 50,000 wounded Australians pass through.
21. The ANZAC Donkey
One of the most famous stories that shows the ANZAC spirit is that of Private John Simpson, often affectionately referred to as ‘Simpson And The Donkey’. Simpson was a stretcher bearer who is believed to have rescued over 300 wounded soldiers by spending nights and days in the battle field with his donkey to help carry them.
22. Aboriginal ANZACs
Despite not being legally allowed to serve, many Aboriginal Australians also volunteered as ANZACs. They had to lie about their race in order to enlist, but their involvement is still rarely recognised. Experts believe around 800-1000 Indigenous soldiers served during WWI, of an estimated 80,000 Indigenous population.
23. The Final One
The last surviving ANZAC, Alec Campbell, died on May 16, 2002.
24. The Digger’s Legacy
Although the ANZACs only fought at Gallipoli for 8 months, and suffered heavy losses, that time is considered to have defined Australia’s spirit as a nation. The story of the ANZACs is that of the underdog, persevering courageously even in the face of despair. And that is why we remember them.
25. ANZACs Today
ANZAC Day isn’t just about what’s happened in Australia’s past, but also what is happening now. Even though we are not at war, many brave Australians still serve, and ANZAC Day is an important day to thank those men and women for their service in war zones and on peacekeeping missions overseas.
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”