Anzac Day has been celebrated in Australia since 1916, the year following the ANZAC landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula on the 25th April 1915. It initially focused on remembering the servicemen who fought and sacrificed their lives during World War I but following the outbreak of World War II and subsequent conflicts around the globe, it has been a day to remember all servicemen and women who have fought for their country.
Today it is marked by a national public holiday, with commemorative services held across Australia at dawn at the time of the original landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula. The “Last Post” bugle call is performed and wreaths laid on War Memorials, together with speeches from politicians and dignitaries.
While there are few soldiers still alive from the Great Wars, many young Australians are now attending and wearing the medals won by their grandparents and great-grandparents. Later in the day, former servicemen and servicewomen take part in Anzac Day marches through the major cities and some regional centres, then gather at Returned and Services League clubs to socialise and play the game of two-up.
The meaning of Anzac Day in Australia has changed throughout the decades following World War I, with a heightened sense of relevance following the outbreak of World War II as the country rallied around its troops once again. The first Anzac Day to be commemorated at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra took place in 1942 but due to the threat of Japanese air attack, it was a relatively small event without an official memorial service or march. During the anti-war sentiment of the 1960s and 1970s, it became a day of social protest as people questioned the country’s participation in conflicts around the globe.
Today Anzac Day is a time when Australians reflect on the many different meanings of war and the way it has impacted their lives, families and the country they live in. For many Australians, it has become a rite of passage to travel to the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey to attend the Dawn Service and see with their own eyes the battlefields where the fighting took place and pay their respects at the cemeteries and memorials.