April 25 is Anzac Day in Australia and New Zealand and it is one of the most important days of the year for all Australians. Anzac Day is the day we remember those brave soldiers who have fallen in war time. It is the day that thousands attend dawn services around the country and the only day of the year that the Australian gambling game of two-up is legally played.
The Anzac legend originated on the shores of Gallipoli, Turkey on April 25th 1915. It stands for Australian New Zealnad Army Corps. As a member of the British Empire, Australia was automatically involved in the First World War to help defend the "mother" country. There were 8,141 Australians killed and 26,111 Australians wounded at Gallipoli. April 25, 1915 is when Anzac, British, and French troops stormed the Gallipoli Peninsula only to be hit with a hail of bullets from the Turks above the shore, who had been forewarned. Many soldiers were killed before they even stood on the beach in this bloodbath.
Gallipoli was not the only major battle that Australians took part in during the First World War. Australian divisions were drawn into the four month long campaign at Somme, suffering enormous casualties. Australians were involved principally in 3 major battles in 1917. In April and May of that year they fought against the Hindenburg line at Bullecourt and then suffered heavy casualties again in June at Messines. Later in the year they fought at Passchendaele. The Australian Imperial Force suffered the highest casualty rate proportionately of any army involved in the First World War.
Although Australians celebrate Anzac Day on the anniversary of that Gallipoli landing, Australians have been to many wars including the Maori Wars in New Zealand, Khartoum in Sudan, both World Wars, the Boer War, Korea and Vietnam Wars, the Gulf War, Suez Crisis, and the Malayan Emergency. In more recent times, Australia had been involved in East Timor, Rwanda, and Bougainville in New Guinea. Anzac Day hornours those who went to these wars and peacekeeping missions, remembering the fallen.
The Anzac Ode: They went with songs to the battle, they were young, straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow. They went 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 shall remember them. Lest We Forget.
Australia's involvement in the Great War had been totally in defence of Britain and this had divided the nation. Australia's Prime Minister of that time, Billy Hughes, lost two referendums on the issue of conscription which once again opened the old English/Irish, Protestant/Catholic wounds. Despite this, Prime Minister Robert Menzies announced Australia was at was against Germany just two days after Britain declared war on Germany on September 1st, 1939. It was now a well established consequence that Australia would support Britain. That idea changed when Japan joined the war in 1941. The threat of invasion to Australia was now all too much of a reality with Darwin and Broome bombed and there was also a submarine attack in Sydney Harbour. The Japanese captured neighbouring Singapore, and advancing through Indonesia, Melanesia and New Guinea, they were now poised on the doorstep of Northern Australia. Like the battlefields of Gallipoli in World War I, the Kokoda track in New Guinea remains a legend to the spirit of Australians in war time.
Here is an excerpt from The Age Newspaper (Monday 27 April 1998) that helps to explain what Anzac Day means to Australians:
"THERE was no muezzin calling the faithful to prayers. No dictator had decreed that people get up before dawn to show proper respect. There had been no ballyhoo in the media. Yet on this balmy Saturday morning in South Yarra, long before the first inky smudges of dawn began to appear, a curious thing was happening.
From every direction you could hear footfalls. People appeared, like wraiths, out of side streets and the Botanic Gardens, groups of three and four, sometimes talking softly, but mostly silent, all coverging on one spot as if by instinct. They were young and old, men and women, some in formal best, most in tracksuits or parkas.
There turned out to be about 10,000 to 14,000 of them, and they were going to the Shrine of Remembrance for the dawn service. They were going for the best reason in the world: because they wanted to.
The service, masterful in its directness and brevity, lasted maybe 15 minutes. As always, it was an assault on the senses: crimson flashes from the rifles of the firing party lighting up the grey columns of the Shrine, the Last Post and Abide With Me sounding more plaintive than they ever do in daylight.
But the mood of the crowd - that was the thing. More than 10,000 people lost in contemplation is an unusual thing to see, and a near impossibility to describe. A cough became a loud noise. Afterwards, people stood in huddles and said how good it had been.
And you had to think about this. It doesn't go like this on any other day. On Australia Day, multitudes don't get up, before or after dawn, because they need to make a pilgrimage. On 26 January, speeches and ceremonies are more in the nature of lip-service. When they are over, we can get on with the cricket."