On April 25 this year in towns and communities all over Australia, hundreds of thousands of strata residents will rouse themselves from their slumber, pin a poppy to their lapel and gather together in the pre-dawn darkness.
While the tradition may seem odd to new immigrants or those unfamiliar with the country’s recent history, Anzac Day is one of Australia’s most important national occasions.
A tradition whose origins date back 103 years, Anzac stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, with Anzac Day marking the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War.
According to the Australian Army History Unit (AAHU), the legacy of Anzac Day was formed on 25 April 1915 when the Anzacs set out to capture the Gallipoli peninsula in order to open the Dardanelles to the allied navies. The objective was to capture Constantinople (now Istanbul in Turkey), the capital of the Ottoman Empire, and an ally of Germany.
The Anzacs landed on Gallipoli but were met with fierce resistance from the Ottoman Turkish defenders. Their plan 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. Both sides suffered heavy casualties and endured great hardships with more than 8,000 Australian soldiers and 2,779 New Zealanders killed.
News of the landing on Gallipoli and the events that followed had a profound impact on Australians and New Zealanders at home. As such, the 25th of April soon became the day on which Australasians both sides of the Tasman remember the sacrifice of all those killed in military operations.
The AAHU says Anzac Day remembrance takes two forms. Commemorative services are held at dawn – the time of the original landing in Gallipoli – across the nation. Later in the day, ex-servicemen and women meet to take part in marches through the major cities and in many smaller centres. Commemorative ceremonies are more formal and are held at war memorials around the country.
Typically a typical Anzac Day ceremony includes an introduction, a hymn, prayer, an address, laying of wreaths, a recitation, the Last Post, a period of silence and the national anthem. After the Memorial’s ceremony, families often place red poppies beside the names of relatives on the Memorial’s Roll of Honour.
Where ever they are in the world, many Australians and New Zealander strata dwellers also partake in less formal traditions on Anzac Day the likes of which include teaming up with ex-servicemen to enjoy a drink and a sausage sandwich or consuming an Anzac biscuit – one of the few commodities that are able to be legally marketed in Australia using the word ‘Anzac’ – over a cup of tea.
However one of the most popular past-times involves heading to the nearest pub or club to join with mates as well as strangers in a game of Two-up.Played for money, the game involves a designated “spinner” throwing two coins or pennies into the air, after which players bet on the sides in which the coins will fall, in part to mark a shared experience with Diggers through the ages.